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Offense is the problem this time as Utes fall to Washington, 69-53

Utah’s first possession of the game ended when guard Parker Van Dyke stepped into a 3-point attempt, only to have Washington’s Matisse Thybulle block his shot.

Taking the last shot of the first half, Ute guard Both Gach tried a 3-pointer that the Huskies’ Sam Timmins swatted away.

That’s the snapshot of Utah’s Pac-12 home opener Thursday night at the Huntsman Center. The Utes’ hopes of generating some momentum in the early stages of the conference schedule? Denied.

Washington’s 69-53 victory erased the good feelings created by Utah’s surprising start of Pac-12 play last week. The Huskies blocked seven shots in the first half, moved ahead by 15 points early in the second half and withstood a mild Ute comeback.

The Utes rallied behind Gach’s work on both ends of the court and got within 47-42, but then he missed an open shot in the lane. Washington immediately regained control with a 12-0 run.

The Utes are in the bottom 20 percent of Division I teams defensively, but offense was a bigger problem Thursday, when they made one basket in a decisive 10-minute stretch of the second half and shot 33 percent from the field.

Washington (11-4, 2-0 Pac-12) finished with nine blocks. Nahziah Carter led the Huskies with 18 points and David Crisp scored 12 of his 17 in the first half.

Junior center Jayce Johnson scored 12 points for Utah (7-8, 1-2), before he sustained a cut to his head and left the game. The Utes were 5 of 29 from 3-point range until the last few seconds, when Van Dyke made his only basket of the night. Senior guard Sedrick Barefield went 2 of 10 from the field for six points after scoring 33, 24 and 26 points in the previous three games, as Washington’s zone defense stymied Utah.

“Every team presents a different set of problems,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “You have to be able to adjust.”

In practice, “You can’t really copy that,” said Ute forward Donnie Tillman.

The Utes really wanted to follow through at home after what had to be judged as a successful road swing to begin Pac-12 play, a comeback win at Arizona State and an overtime loss at Arizona.

“Very positive vibe,” Barefield said after Wednesday’s practice. “You should see some great energy” against Washington.

Barefield has made a point of saying he kept believing in his team, and that faith was rewarded in Arizona. “That did validate it,” he said, “but if we drop a home game, that just takes away from that road win. So we’re pretty focused, going forward.”

Krystkowiak also liked the statement his team made on the road, but cautioned there’s nothing automatic about a carryover. “There were a lot of good things,” he said, “but you don’t rest on ‘Oh, yeah, we’re good enough.’ It’s [about] remaining focused on elements within that competition that lead you to be a little bit more successful.”

In his weekly news conference, Krystkowiak said of his team’s showing, “Some things start getting validated,” with the players realizing, “Maybe the coaches aren’t as crazy as we thought. Not only that, the players start trusting each other when guys make plays.”

The Utes shared the ball against Washington, recording 16 assists on 20 baskets, but scoring was difficult. The Huskies’ strategy was to make someone other than Barefield beat them, with an aggressive defense on the perimeter. Utah succeeded in getting the ball inside in the first half, but Washington recovered well by blocking seven shots and taking a 38-30 lead.

Barefield scored only three points in the half, while the Huskies thrived from the outside. Washington made 7 of 16 attempts from 3-point range, while going only 7 of 21 on 2-point shots.

Starting the second half, the Huskies pushed their lead to 45-30. The Utes then couldn’t sustain their comeback, in a loss that undid a lot of the good things they had done in Arizona.

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