GAME NOTES: The surprising Utah Utes hit the road to battle the Washington Huskies in a Pac-12 Conference affair at Alaska Airlines Arena.
Not much was expected of Utah coming into this season, but the Utes have proven the doubters wrong, running out to a 12-2 start. However, they have not been tested much away from home, with just one true road test, which ended in a 69-67 loss to Boise State. Utah, which has split its first two league games, will visit Washington State next.
The campaign has been a bit more uneven for Washington, which enters this contest with a record of 9-6. The Huskies nearly toppled No. 1 Arizona in Tucson last time out, but fell short in a 71-62 decision. That ended a three- game win streak for the Huskies, who are 7-2 at home, where they will face nationally-ranked Colorado on Sunday.
These teams also met at Alaska Airlines Arena in their only meeting last season, and Utah earned a 74-65 victory, but still the Utes trail in the all- time series, 7-6.
All five starters scored in double figures, led by 23 points from Brandon Taylor, in Utah's 80-69 victory over Oregon State last time out. The Utes shot at a 58 percent clip, recording assists on 23 of their 29 field goals, while knocking down 12-of-22 shots from beyond the arc.
Utah has been an extremely efficient offensive squad this season. The Utes are currently leading the country in field goal percentage (.532), while ranking second in assists (18.8 apg) and 14th in scoring (85.5 ppg). They also do fine work on defense, fitting into the top-20 in points allowed (61.2 ppg) and opponent field goal percentage (.379). Jordan Loveridge (17 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is the most productive member of the team, leading the way in scoring and rebounding. However, he finished with a modest 10 points and five boards against Oregon State. Delon Wright (14.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.6 apg, 2.5 spg) is a versatile performer, and Taylor (11.7 ppg, 4.3 apg), who also had eight assists against Oregon State, can also be counted on.
Washington seemed to have a real chance at knocking off the top-ranked Wildcats, but dropped the ball down the stretch as it hit just 30.3 percent from the floor and 0-of-7 from 3-point range during the final 20 minutes. C.J. Wilcox finished with 20 points and Perris Blackwell had 12 points and as many rebounds.
Although Washington can certainly score (79.1 ppg), it has not been as efficient as its counterpart in this contest. In fact, the Huskies are next- to-last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.449), and ninth in assists (13.6 pg). Wilcox (20.2 ppg) has not been deterred much this season, trailing only Oregon State's Roberto Nelson in scoring among all Pac-12 players. Blackwell (11.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has anchored the team in the paint, an area the Huskies have struggled in as they rank 10th in the conference in rebounds. Nigel Williams-Goss (12.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) doesn't help much in the frontcourt, but he has shown flashes of brilliance running the point as a freshman.
Topping Utah has been a difficult proposal this season. However, the Utes have not been tested much on the road. Washington clearly has the ability to contend with the nation's best, and will do their best to knock the Utes down a few pegs.
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