Washington Huskies

Huskies’ defense ‘unacceptable’ in 90-82 loss at Utah

Washington forward Marquese Chriss (0) pulls down a rebound as Utah's Kyle Kuzma (35) and Chris Reyes, center, defend in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Salt Lake City.
Washington forward Marquese Chriss (0) pulls down a rebound as Utah's Kyle Kuzma (35) and Chris Reyes, center, defend in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Salt Lake City. AP

The final score doesn’t truly reveal the level of helplessness experienced by the Washington Huskies on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center.

But the box score tells plenty.

The Huskies made enough shots to only lose 90-82 to the Utah Utes before a crowd of 11,675. The eight-point losing margin, on the road, against a team that will likely play in the NCAA tournament will not be their greatest source of frustration.

Hard to say exactly what will be, though. Jakob Poeltl’s easy 23 points on 11-for-12 shooting? Jordan Loveridge’s 16 points and five 3-pointers? Utah’s 10-for-17 clip from 3-point range? Utah’s 67.3 field-goal percentage, the highest allowed by a UW team since at least 1996? Utah’s 70.4 percent field-goal percentage in the second half? Utah’s 23 layups and dunks?

“Just unacceptable,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said, also describing his team’s defensive play as “very negligent.”

So … all of the above, then.

“They sliced us up,” Romar said. “They put us in positions where we had to make decisions defensively, and we didn’t make very good ones. You can play some other teams and they don’t put you in those positions. Well, Utah did, the entire time.”

It isn’t necessarily accurate to say the Huskies played terrible defense on Wednesday, because that would imply that they played any defense at all. And they didn’t. Utah did whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted — open looks from the perimeter, slick interior passing that led to layups and dunks, other basic offensive maneuvers that led to layups and dunks — and the Huskies might shudder to think how many points the Utes might have scored if they hadn’t committed 17 turnovers.

In a way, it’s remarkable that UW (15-9, 7-5 Pac-12) was even in this game in the final minutes. The Huskies trimmed a 12-point deficit to 82-76 on a Marquese Chriss 3-pointer with 4:28 to play — he was a bright spot, leading the team with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting in 36 minutes — and cut the lead to 87-82 after a quick 6-0 run a few minutes later.

But even when UW forced a miss — a rare occurrence on this night — with a little more than a minute to play, Poeltl collected Utah’s second offensive rebound of the game, then capped the second-chance possession with a drive and dunk with 36 seconds to play that essentially put the game away.

Andrew Andrews added 22 points for the Huskies. Dominic Green scored a career-best 13 points off the bench. Noah Dickerson added 11 points. The Huskies shot 47.8 percent from the field and scored 24 points off Utah’s turnovers. But their defense simply never showed up. Utah (18-7, 7-5) assisted on 26 of its 35 made field goals, and forward Kyle Kuzma, one of the Utes’ starting bigs, led that effort with seven.

Lorenzo Bonam, a junior guard, scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and senior guard Brandon Taylor, a 28.6 percent 3-point shooter, added 15 points and made 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

“They did everything really well,” Chriss said. “They shot the ball well. They got the ball inside and were shooting layups, shooting 3s, and they were making their shots. You can only do so much when the ball goes in every time they throw it up.”

It was a particularly discouraging display for the Huskies considering how well they felt they played in a close loss last week to Arizona. In that game, UW held the 17th-ranked Wildcats to just 39.4 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers. But Arizona’s 17 offensive rebounds carried it to a 77-72 victory.

So, hey, there’s some good news: the Utes had only two offensive rebounds. Then again, one of them essentially decided the game. And they only missed 17 shots to begin with.

“I thought we had shored up some of the things we didn’t do well defensively the last time,” Romar said, referring to UW’s 80-75 overtime loss to the Utes on Jan. 24. “We go over those things in shootaround. The reason it catches you is because when you go over them, (you think) ‘OK good, we’re doing a good job. We should be OK.’ And then we come out as if we didn’t practice. It looks like we didn’t practice.”

They will have to practice to avoid a similar fate on Saturday at Colorado, a team the Huskies beat 95-83 in Seattle on Jan. 20, though the Buffaloes are much better at home.

And the Huskies hope they’re much better than what they showed on Wednesday.

“It’s surprising, because we’re a really aggressive defensive team, and everybody on our team loves to play defense,” Chriss said. “It was kind of a letdown today, and we have to pick it up and move forward.”

Game in review

PLAYER OF THE GAME Jakob Poeltl was something close to unstoppable on Wednesday night. The 7-foot sophomore led Utah with 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting despite playing only 27 minutes due to mild foul trouble. He dominated in the paint and didn’t have to work very hard for most of his easy buckets.

IT WAS OVER WHEN – Poeltl grabbed an offensive rebound in the final minute, then drove and dunked with 36 seconds left to give Utah an 89-82 lead. Washington didn’t score again.

STAT OF THE GAME It could hardly be anything other than Utah’s field-goal percentage. The Utes made 67.3 percent of their field-goal attempts for the game (35 for 52), and shot 70.4 percent from the field in the second half.

QUOTABLE “There are certain guys that you want to make drivers, and other guys that you want to make shooters, and we did the reverse. … Just a lot of mistakes. Credit Utah, because they put us in positions where they exposed us.” — UW coach Lorenzo Romar

WHAT IT MEANS – There is no shame in losing on the road to a solid team like Utah. But there is plenty of shame in allowing any opponent to shoot 67.3 percent from the field for an entire game, and 70.4 percent for an entire half. This was an embarrassing defensive display, and the Huskies need to correct it in a hurry.

UP NEXT – Washington at Colorado, 11 a.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Networks

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