SALT LAKE CITY - For the second consecutive season Utah lost the season opener on their home floor. A year after losing to Southwest Baptist to tip-off a season, Utah lost a shoot-out to Idaho, 94-87. The Utes dug themselves a big hole with a poor first half while horrendous shooting from beyond the arc in the second sealed the loss.
A pair of freshmen led the Utes. Jason Washburn led all scores with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Washburn also added 7 rebounds, 5 on the offensive glass. True freshman Marshall Henderson chipped in 18, but shot poorly in the second half hitting just 1-of-7 from the field, 0-for-4 from three. Carlon Brown added 12 points and 4 rebounds but had a tough overall night, making just 4-of-13 shots and turned the ball over 6 times. Idaho guard Steffan Johnson led the Vandals with 19 points while sharp-shooter Jeff Ledbetter poured in 16 off the bench.
"I walked in the locker room and said my piece," Brown said. "I told them I'm going to take that loss on myself because I played poorly and [they] deserve better from me." Brown was plagued by foul problems all night long and finished with four fouls in 24 minutes. "It was tough. There was nothing I could do; I couldn't play up on defense, I couldn't drive, I had to be cautious of driving and it affected me greatly."
After falling behind by as many as 10 points in the first half the Utes kept battling and actually took a 66-65 lead with 11 minutes left in the game after a Kim Tillie three point shot. Utah could not ride that momentum and Idaho seemingly had an answer for every Utah run. Luka Drca missed a jump shot that would have put the Utes up by three, and a foul on the other end by David Foster gave Idaho the chance to reclaim the lead. Marvin Jefferson hit both free throws to start a 10-0 run that effectively put the Utes away. Though Utah did tie the game up at 81 with five and a half minutes to go, they used so much energy in the furious come back that their shots from that point on were flat and short.
Despite having a significant size advantage in the paint, the Utes were out-rebounded 40-34, 21-12 in the first half alone. Idaho consistently beat the Utes to the offensive glass, grabbing 13 offensive boards (eight in the first half) leading to 12 second chance points. It was a team effort on the glass for Idaho, as no player had more than 6 rebounds.
While both teams put up very similar numbers from the field, the game was decided at the charity stripe. Idaho used their quickness to get in the lane, and in a tightly officiated game that saw 48 fouls called the Vandals took advantage by shooting 33 free throws to the Utes 21. Idaho actually made more than the Utes attempted hitting 22 of their free throws.
"I thought we battled," Utah head coach Jim Boylen said after the game. "I don't like up 94 points in our building. I don't like losing the board game and the free throw game and in saying that I thought we battled, we battled back, we hung in there. I thought our shot selection at times hurt us, I thought we tried to do it by ourselves at times, which young teams do. You have got to give Idaho credit, I thought they played well."
"It was a combination of everything," Brown said. "Missed free throws, unnecessary technical fouls, no rebounding, no cutting, basically fundamental basketball stuff that we go over every day."
Utah doesn't have time to dwell on the loss, as they will practice immediately in preparation for a game Wednesday night against in-state rival Utah State. The Utes have plenty of room for improvement, but Boylen felt he could narrow down the issues to one main point, trust.
"Trusting each other at both ends," Boylen said. "That's what we did last year, that's what we need to work on this year. Trust. Each. Other. We've got to trust each other. We all tried to do it by ourselves I thought at both ends and we can't do that. We're going to learn how to trust and we're going to grow."
Henderson scored 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting (3-of-6 from 3) in the first half, but scored just 4 points on 1-of-7 shooting (0-for-4 from 3) in the second. Henderson also picked up a technical foul in the first half during a timeout.
Tillie scored 10 points and pulled down 8 rebounds.
Foster had a solid debut, going 4-for-4 from the field, scoring 8 points and grabbing 3 rebounds in 13 minutes. Fouls hurt Foster as he had 4 fouls in those minutes.
Though the stat sheet doesn't show it, Boylen felt Jace Tavita played a great game at both ends. Tavita had 3 points, 2 assists and a steal, but he ran the offense well and played great on-ball defense.