Pullman, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pac-12 Conference is in the final stretch, as 13th-ranked Utah challenges the Washington State Cougars at Beasley Coliseum on Thursday night.
The Runnin' Utes hit a few snags during the final days of February, losing two of the last three outings on the schedule. A 63-57 setback against seventh- ranked Arizona last Saturday was understandable, but six days earlier the team also bowed to Oregon, 69-58, which was somewhat of a surprise.
As a result, Utah is now 12-4 in conference and that has the squad trailing only Arizona in the standings with the conference tournament looming. Right behind the Utes is Oregon which, prior to Wednesday night's Civil War versus Oregon State, had a mark of 12-5 in conference.
Meanwhile, the Cougars find themselves tied with Colorado for ninth place in the standings with a record of only 6-10. The squad has dropped three of the last four outings, including a 72-67 final at UCLA last Sunday.
Utah has won all but four of the previous 20 encounters with the Cougars, although the Utes have not won in Pullman since 1999. Back in January, the Utes played host to WSU at the Huntsman Center and delivered a powerful 86-64 victory.
Both Utah and Arizona had trouble finding the basket during their meeting last weekend, but even with the visiting Wildcats hitting a mere 2-of-12 behind the 3-point line, that wasn't enough to swing momentum in favor of the Runnin' Utes. The hosts finished just 30.9 percent accurate from the floor and 7-of-22 beyond the arc, as Delon Wright finished with 17 points, mostly at the free- throw line (10-of-12), to go along with five rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. Jordan Loveridge tacked on 10 points and six boards in the setback.
In conference play, the offense for the Utes has been rather steady with 69.7 ppg, although the squad has been held below 59 points in three of the last four outings. The good news for Utah is that it has managed to limit the competition to just 55.0 ppg on 38.2 percent shooting from the floor and a woeful 26.9 percent effort behind the 3-point line. At the offensive end, the Utes take their cues from Wright (13.3 ppg) and Brandon Taylor (11.1 ppg) who have also combined to hand out 148 assists, which is seven more than all Pac-12 opponents put together.
Josh Hawkinson put together a solid effort against UCLA last Sunday evening at Pauley Pavilion, producing a double-double consisting of 21 points and a game- high 14 rebounds, but still the visitors came up short in their quest for victory. DaVonte Lacy contributed 19 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench, while Ike Iroegbu stepped up with 10 points and seven of his team's 17 assists, but the squad was also guilty of 16 turnovers.
Hawkinson is averaging a double-double in conference play with 13.8 points and 11.1 caroms per contest, with his efforts on the glass more than enough reason for him to give up trying to be a 3-point threat, since he has missed all 19 of his shots from the outside. Lacy nets 17.3 ppg as the leading scorer, but he too has trouble connecting beyond the arc (.294), although that has not stopped him from letting fly with 102 attempts over 16 outings.