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January 6, 2012The Utah basketball team was back in the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center fresh off of an ugly 40 point loss to the Colorado Buffaloes last Saturday in their first Pac-12 game against Washington State.
For the Utes, it was good to be back home.
Thursday night's game against Washington State was a back and forth affair with several big plays, but none greater than Josh Watkins' two pull-up jumpers and Chris Hines clutch defense.
The basketball Utes one-upped the football team on Thursday night, as they got their first Pac-12 win in two fewer games. The win did not come easy however, as the Utes quickly relinquished a six point halftime lead at the start of the second half.
"We were complacent coming out of the locker room at halftime. Our first three possessions were turnovers. We had two three turnovers in the first half," said Utes Head Coach (db)Larry Krystkowiak(/db). "Last time I checked, it's impossible to score if you turn it over."
Five Utes played at least 30 minutes in the game led by Cedric Martin with 42 minutes and Watkins with 40, despite having a scary fall on his knee in the second half. "We had some warriors, man, if you look at the minutes," said Krystkowiak.
As for Watkins' knee injury, Jiggy went down clutching his knee after a physical no-call under the Utah basket. After a quick trip to the locker room he was back on the floor ready to make a lasting impression on the game.
"I was hurt bad but I did not even wanna go to the locker room. I wanted to just stay. I didn't want to leave my guys out there without a fight. No matter how much pain I'm in, I'm a tough kid, I'll get through it," said Watkins.
After a strong first half, the Utes found themselves consistently behind in the second yet Washington State could not pull away.
"We had some guys hit some threes, some timely threes that instead of a six point game turning into to eight or ten cut it back down to three and it allowed us to kind of keep our life," said Krystkowiak.
Watkins was also impressed with his team's ability to not let Washington State go on a long sustained run.
"This game is full of runs. We had our runs and they were gonna have their runs and we knew that so towards the end of the game we just said we gotta get stops. No matter what run we go on we just gotta stop the ball and get stops. Take our time and play as a team and we did that," said Watkins.
Two players crucial to Utah's success in the win were Javon Dawson and Kareem Storey. Dawson was pressed into more minutes than normal due to foul trouble with Dijon Farr (who fouled out). The Utes turned to Storey to provide defensive pressure, and he was once again a spark plug as he came up with critical defensive stops.
"Kareem came in and made some big plays. I thought he was dialed in for us defensively," said Krystkowiak.
As the ultimate team player, Storey was just happy to do what had to be done in helping his team win the game.
"We just wanna win, as a team. I just wanna win. Anything to help my team win I'll do. If it took me staying on the bench the whole game and just cheering the team on, if that was what I had to do to get a win I would have done it," said Storey.
With a renewed focus on doing the small things to keep the game from getting away, the Utes fought back and tied the game on a Hines three-pointer.
After a determined effort on the defensive, Jiggy drove the ball down in the closing seconds looking to feed Hines for the game winner. Watkins suddenly found himself open in the lane with an easy pull-up jumper as his defender over-played him and the shot took the game into overtime.
The overtime period picked up right where regulation left off. Washington State jumped ahead, but was unable to pull away due to Utah's strong defensive effort and the Utes made their shots when they had to.
Then it was de-ja-vu all over again as Watkins was ready to kick the ball out to Hines in the closing seconds, but his defender over-played him again, and Watkins hit another pull up jumper, this time for the game winner, with 3.3 seconds left.
"It just kind of opened up for me, I just let it come to me and at the end the guy was trying to over play me and roll with me so all I had to do was stop and take that shot," said Watkins.
Washington State had one more opportunity but DaVonte Lacy was forced out of bounds by Hines with 1.5 to play to give Utah the ball and the victory.
After the game, the Utes could not help but to show their excitement on recording their first Pac-12 victory. "Exciting, (I'm) happy, I mean it was a big win for Utah and Utah's history," said Hines.
"It feels really good because starting Monday when we came back focused, our guys it's been, it's not coach talk here but for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we had three as good of practices as we've had since I've been here," said Krystkowiak.
Watkins scored over 20 points for the tenth time in his two seasons at Utah as he recorded 20 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
Washington State was led on the night by forward Brock Motum with 27 points and eight rebounds.