Utah brought in its highest rated freshman class in the Pac-12 era before the start of the season. A few of those first-year players are starting to show what made them so special as recruits.
Timmy Allen, Both Gach, and Riley Battin led a balanced attack on offense and defense that powered Utah to an 88-70 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. The three freshmen made their presence felt all over the court. They scored tons of key baskets and set up plenty of others, collected rebounds, and made stops at critical junctures.
Allen ended up leading the Utes with 15 points and nine rebounds. Gach added 14 points while Battin chipped in 11.
It offered a taste of what could be ahead for Utah if the trio continues to progress.
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“We’re a deep group,” Allen said. “We’ve got somebody at every position. We’re going to be a problem in the years coming. Just keep your eyes out for sure.”
Charles Jones, Jr. also scored 11 points while Sedrick Barefield and Parker Van Dyke chipped in 10 apiece for the Utes. Barefield also dished out seven assists. It marked the first time Utah had six players score in double figures since a 96-53 win over Concordia (Ore.) on Nov. 15, 2016.
Utah (8-8, 2-2 Pac-12) snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Cougars for the 17th consecutive time in Salt Lake City, dating back to 1946.
C.J. Elleby scored 21 points and Isaiah Wade added 12 to lead Washington State. The Cougars (7-9, 0-3) have lost all eight games they have played outside Pullman this season.
“One guy can’t beat these teams and so they are going to have to understand how to play together, how to grow together, how to share the ball together and that’s the key to it,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said. “The good thing is they figured it out in the last 12 minutes and we can take it back home and continue to build off of it because it was not pretty in the first 30-35 minutes of this game and we did not play well at all.”
Utah took a 11-5 lead on back-to-back layups from Gach after Washington State went nearly six minutes without scoring a basket. Wade ended the drought with a jumper and added a layup to punctuate a 6-0 run that tied it at 11.
Van Dyke kept the Cougars from actually taking the lead. He drained a 3-pointer to put Utah back in front. Then the senior guard stole the ball and took it in for a dunk. Van Dyke’s two baskets sparked a 15-0 run that gave the Utes a 26-11 lead.
Washington State opened a door for the decisive run by missing eight straight shots and committing three turnovers over a 4½ minute stretch.
“You really don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you don’t put any pressure on your offense when you’re getting those kind of stops,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It’s been key for us to rebound the ball and get out and push the ball.”
Utah came out on fire after halftime to completely pull away from the Cougars. The Utes scored baskets on seven straight possessions, culminating in a dunk from Jayce Johnson, to take a 62-32 lead with 13:19 remaining. All seven baskets were layups or dunks.
“We’ve been struggling come out of the half this year,” Allen said. “We were able to come out strong and keep pushing and grow the lead a little bit.”
Washington State’s leading scorer Robert Franks missed his fourth consecutive game while recovering from a hip contusion. The senior forward did not travel with the Cougars to Boulder or Salt Lake City this week. Franks is averaging 22.1 points on 52.4 percent shooting and 7.9 rebounds per game. He is also the top rebounder for Washington State.
Without Franks in the lineup, the Cougars looked lost on offense and fell victim to multiple prolonged shooting and scoring droughts. They are now 0-5 in games where Franks has not played this season.
“Couldn’t believe it,” Krystkowiak said on what he thought of Van Dyke’s first half dunk. “He had some kind of flubber in his sneaker because I haven’t seen him dunk very often and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him dunk off of two feet in transition.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Washington State: Turnovers and poor perimeter shooting doomed the Cougars on offense for the second straight game. Washington State coughed up 13 turnovers, leading to 21 points for Utah and averaged 12.5 turnovers per game on its road trip this week. The Cougars also shot just 5 of 24 from 3-point range after going 2 of 18 from the perimeter against Colorado.
Utah: The Utes bounced back from a ragged offensive performance against Washington by driving into the paint and getting out in transition. Utah finished with 48 points in the paint and tallied 24 fast break points against Washington State after scoring 26 in the paint and 12 in transition against the Huskies. It helped the Utes overcome 16 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Cougars.
Washington State hosts California on Thursday.
Utah hosts Colorado on Jan. 20.