A new point guard made the flashy drives through the lane, but not much else was different for the Utah Utes in a 77-51 loss to Arizona amid their midseason shift into a new era.
There was no Josh "Jiggy" Watkins the exiled point guard replaced by freshman Kareem Storey but, for an announced crowd of 8,492 at the Huntsman Center, there was still grit and effort and a good deal of frustration as the Utes again didn't have the talent or stamina to keep up with one of the Pac-12's basketball powers.
"You give a team like Arizona a little momentum and all of a sudden they're just hitting shots and can't miss," Utah center Jason Washburn said. "It got away from us in a hurry."
Washburn led the Utes (4-14, 1-5) with 14 points and six rebounds, while Storey, the starter by necessity, scored 10 points and had six assists. Storey also committed five turnovers.
It's been a season of bizarre twists and unpredicted turns for the Utes in their first season in the Pac-12. The latest and most disabling came Wednesday when coach Larry Krystkowiak kicked Watkins, the team's starting point guard and leading scorer, off the team.
But the greatest on-court irony of the season may have come with 18:14 remaining in Thursday's game when Arizona's Solomon Hill was ejected after hitting Ute guard Cedric Martin in the head with an elbow.
Alex Mortenson made two free throws to cut the Wildcats' lead to 35-32.
The Utes were one good shot away from a tie game, Arizona's leading scorer and rebounder was imprisoned in the locker room, and the Utes were fired up. So, understandably, the momentum belonged to ...
Inexplicably, the Wildcats scored on nine of their next 11 possessions en route to a 20-2 run that took the Utes out of the game within six minutes.
"I think that was more of a coincidence than expecting us to all of the sudden go out there and go on a run of our own," Krystkowiak said.
Martin was knocked from the game, but returned with 15:13 remaining after he was deemed not to have a concussion.
While the Utes have stayed in games recently by being plucky and displaying other intangible traits, their loss to Arizona could easily be explained with a quick glance at the stat sheet.
Arizona shot 50 percent on 3-pointers (12 of 24), while the Utes were 4 of 16. The Utes committed 17 turnovers. They forced only nine. The Arizona bench scored 33 points. The Utah reserves accounted for three.
The Utes blamed their second-half collapse on fatigue and a shortage of available players. With Watkins gone, the Utes had just 11 players dressed they all played but forward Javon Dawson was ill, Krystkowiak said, leaving the Utes undermanned in the post.
The post-Jiggy era began with a thud and, without the drama of the elbow or the switch at point guard, was without much drama or consequence.
But, Krystkowiak said, it was significant.
"I don't think it was a step back or a step forward," he said. "It was just kind of a necessary step that we just have to kind of see what's next."
R Playing their first game without point guard Josh Watkins, the Utes lose by 26 points.