Minus their recently dismissed leading scorer, Utah scrapped its way to a five point deficit versus a deeper, more athletic Arizona team at the half. Cedric Martin and Kareem Storey each contributed seven points, and Jason Washburn and Chris Hines ended the half with six each as the group effort looked to make up for the lack of scoring usually provided by Josh Watkins.
In the absence of Watkins, who averaged 15.6 ppg, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said post-game that the Utes would have to "find a way" to replace Watkins offensive output and focus on a collective effort in order to do so.
"We're going to have to manufacture [offensive opportunities] as a group," explained Krystkowiak. "We don't have the terminating point guard that will finish something with pick and roll. So it's going to have to be done collectively."
True freshman Kareem Storey did his best to fill in the absence of Watkins and a lack of another true point guard on the roster.
While showing some freshman mistakes, Storey provided mostly solid decision making, aside from early foul trouble, which eventually saw him foul out of the contest late in the second half. Storey provided some early offense for the Utes and finished with 10 points and six of Utah's eight assists for the ball game.
In an attempt to put Watkins in the rear view mirror, Storey's teammates praised Storey's Thursday night performance.
"I thought Kareem [Storey] did a really solid job tonight. He attacked the basket really hard, and created plays for his teammates," said Washburn. "We were all really happy with his performance tonight, for his first time starting."
"I thought Kareem did a wonderful job for his first start. He hit some big shots and made some solid plays," senior guard Chris Hines added. "Overall, we missed [Watkins], but we also had some real plusses in this game."
Early on in the Arizona game, it looked as if the Utes had found a way to score by committee, even with good looks hard to come by against the active, lengthy Wildcats.
A slow moving, low scoring 28-33 contest played to Utah's favor for the first twenty minutes, but ultimately, the Utes could not compete with the outside shooting of the Wildcats as the Utes were defeated soundly by a 77-51 margin to fall to 4-14 and 1-5 in Pac-12 play.
In the second half, Utah failed to find consistent scoring while simultaneously failing to defend the three point shooting of the visiting Wildcats, who shot 12-24 (50%) from beyond the arc Thursday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Myriad problems presented themselves throughout the course of the game, including rebounding, which fell soundly in Arizona's favor. The Utes were out-rebounded by a final margin of 39 to 29. The Arizona bench also played a factor, outscoring Utah's bench 33-3.
Bench scoring was not a surprise for Krystkowiak, given the current circumstances of the team who was already suffering a lack of depth to start the season.
Without center David Foster, who went out with an ankle injury very early in the season, the Utes have just one true post player in Jason Washburn, but have looked to Javon Dawson, listed as 6-foot-7 and Dijon Farr, listed at 6-foot-6, to backup Washburn in the paint.
Dawson has struggled this season with conditioning, adjusting to altitude early, nagging injury and Thursday night, was ill and played just ten minutes in the contest. With the lack of depth, Cedric Martin played 31 minutes, Washburn logged 33 and senior point guard Chris Hines played 34 minutes. Farr played 29 of the 40 minutes, while freshman point guard Kareem Storey played 25.
"The bench is a little thin right now. We've got to get some of the guys to come in and make an impact. We had Javon [Davon] sick, so we didn't have a backup post player," Krystkowiak explained. "Some of that stuff caught up with us. But for the first twenty or twenty five minutes of the game, we were competitive and I thought we were hanging in there."
Post-game, the Utes seemed neither disappointed nor pleased with their performance, acknowledging simply that they didn't have the depth or stamina to keep competing at the level that kept them in the game in the first half.
"I think it was us kind of running out of gas. We've been riding those ponies for quite a while, and I think it's like a heavyweight fight," Krystkowiak said. "When you start getting into those later rounds, you can only take so many body punches."
Senior point guard Chris Hines was quick to agree with his coach's assessment of the first half, versus the second half.
"I think [Krystkowiak] is right. Our legs kind of took a hit and we got winded. Shots were going their way and we were turning the ball over, and they were hitting home runs," Hines explained.
Utah got to within three points to start the half, cutting Arizona's halftime lead to 30-33 at the 18:32 mark with a layup by Dijon Farr. After that, it was all downhill, while Arizona continued it's hot shooting from outside and notching up their defensive intensity.
The Utes scored just 23 points in the second half, suffering at least three three-minute stretches without scoring, not including the final 5:14 of the contest where in the Utes managed just one free throw, a shot hit by Blake Wilkinson with :38 seconds remaining. Utah's final bucket of the game, a layup by center Jason Washburn to bring the contest to 50-68 at the 5:14 mark.
Utah center Jason Washburn led all scorers with 14 points, snatched six rebounds, and tallied one assist and one block after coach Larry Krystkowiak challenged him earlier in the week during practice to become more of an offensive weapon for the depleted Utes.
The Utes will host Arizona State Saturday at 3 P.M. MST at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The Sun Devils may be just the opponent the Utes are looking for, at 6-12 overall and 2-4 in Pac-12 play. Utah has now played four of the top six teams on the conference in Cal, Stanford, Washington and Colorado, with three of those losses coming on the road.