It wasn’t the end-of-game execution envisioned by Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. In the final two minutes Wednesday night, the Huskies turned over the basketball twice and missed the front end of a one-and-one. But they made a last-second stop when Delon Wright’s potential game-winning three grazed the rim, sending UW to a 59-57 win over Utah in the Huskies’ Pac-12 home opener.
That UW (10-6, 2-1 Pac-12) needed a last-second defensive stop was emblematic of a night in which both teams were sloppy. That the Huskies made it affirmed their recent defensive turnaround.
With 10 seconds left, the Huskies led 59-57 and had possession, with a sideline inbounds play to come. However, guard Mike Anderson threw it away. Utah corralled it at UW’s end before using a timeout.
“The play would have worked but they kind of held me and (C.J. Wilcox),” said Andrew Andrews. “It was designed for him to come off and he was originally open, and then me to follow him . . . we didn’t get it executed the right way.”
Given a final possession, the Utes (12-3, 1-2 Pac-12) tried a dribble hand-off play to get Wright, who finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds, an open look at three and the win.
The Huskies were ready. They jumped the hand-off and Wright was trapped in the corner in front of his bench.
His last-second heave was disrupted by a pair of hands in his face. It never had a chance. After leading by nine with a shade under two minutes left, then letting the lead slip, it was what the Huskies wanted. Finally.
“I would say, yeah, because he missed it,” Andrews said. “A contested three was probably the shot that we wanted him to take.”
It was Andrews who staked UW the late cushion with back-to-back jumpers. The first was a feathery pull-up that gave the Huskies a six-point advantage. The next was a contested three that came with the shot clock winding down. It staked UW to a 59-50 lead with 1:54 left.
“When he gets in the zone, he kind of puts us on his back,” Romar said after Andrews led the Huskies with 19 points, 12 in the second half. “He’s capable of making runs like that.”
The back-and-forth game featured four ties and six lead changes. Neither team established a rhythm, combining for 14 fast-break points and 26 turnovers.
“We knew we were going to be in for a fight,” Romar said. “They just grind you. They don’t give you an inch. They just fight you the entire time, and Delon Wright is one heckuva player.”
The first half was ugly. Points were hard to come by. It seemed like a futile tribute to the cross-state Cougars, who last week scored an astonishing 25 points in a loss to No. 1 Arizona. Wednesday, most possessions were settled in the half court.
Utah in the first half missed all nine of its three-point attempts and went six of 23 from the field (26 percent). Most telling: The Utes, who entered with the largest scoring margin in the country (24.3 points) but questions about their strength of schedule, didn’t record an assist until 6:17 remained in the game.
The Huskies weren’t sharp either — they committed eight first-half turnovers — but managed nine of 22 shooting (40.9 percent) to take a 26-21 lead into halftime.
Early, the Huskies jumped to an 8-0 lead thanks to sound defense — they contested well nearly every Utah attempt — and more poor shooting from the Utes. Utah went scoreless until Nigel Williams-Goss fouled Utah forward Jordan Loveridge with 13:40 left in the first half. The Utes didn’t make a field goal until Wright made a layup eight minutes into the game. They finished one of 15 from beyond-the-arc.
Utah missed its first 10 shots from the field but pulled to a 9-8 lead by extending pressure and forcing the Huskies into seven turnovers through the first eight minutes.
Wright’s strong second half (18 points) allowed Utah to finish shooting 41.5 percent for the game — poor marksmanship unseen by Huskies foes in the first 15 games.
“I don’t think that our offense tonight was as deficient as much as the Huskies’ defense was really good,” Utah coach Larry Krystowiak said. “They were stoked up and ready to go.”