Washburn, Utah getting noticed for right moves

Washburn, Utah getting noticed for right moves

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The nasty chants that rained down on Jason Washburn during Utah's Pac-12 opener last week were hard to ignore.

Instead of being insulted, the Utes' 6-foot-10 center took them as a sign that his play was being noticed.

Considering how far Utah had fallen off the college basketball map last season during a 6-25 campaign, the razzing almost felt good.

``I wasn't going to jaw back with them,'' Washburn said of the rowdy Arizona State fans. ``All I could do was hope my game silenced them. Obviously, we lost the game (in overtime) and they probably got the final laugh, but I took it as I was doing something right.''

Now, after putting up big numbers in pushing ASU and No. 3 Arizona to the brink last weekend, Washburn needs a similar effort at home Thursday against high-scoring UCLA (12-3, 2-0), winner of seven straight.

It's a matchup of the Pac-12's top offense, led by freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad (19.6 points a game), and Utah's conference-best defense.

Washburn is a big part of that D, the lone holdover from the Jim Boylen era.

He had a 19-point, 18-rebound effort against the Sun Devils and blocked four shots. He followed that with a 17-point, 11-rebound effort against the Wildcats, with two blocks and a 3-pointer.

Washburn leads the league in rebounding, is second in blocks in conference play and is the inspirational leader on a defense that ranks first in the conference (seventh nationally) in field goal percentage (35.4) - up from 321st in the nation last season.

He has plenty of help from a revamped roster that includes freshman Jordan Loveridge (a team-leading 13 points and 7.6 rebounds per game), sophomore Dallin Bachynski and guards Aaron Dotson, Jarred DuBois, Cedric Martin and Glen Dean.

And the Utes have second-year coach Larry Krystkowiak preaching defense.

``A guy can have a night where he just can't hit a shot but defense can always be there. Defense travels with you,'' Washburn said.

That approach by Utah has resulted in slow-it-down games, including the 60-57 loss in Tucson on Saturday in which Arizona failed to score a basket in transition.

``It's not two teams running down, dunking on each other, but we feel it's the right way to play,'' said Washburn, who already has his education degree and wants to be a teacher. ``I don't know how else you can explain us staying with the No. 3 team in the country.''

Washburn acknowledges last year's team was so lacking in ability it probably had no right even winning six games. Credit Krystkowiak for making them believe they could.

Now Utah (8-6, 0-2) has surpassed the six wins with 16 games remaining on the regular-season schedule.

Thursday's ``blackout game,'' where fans are encouraged to wear black, has brought excitement to the campus not seen since USC made its visit last fall to play Utah in football.

``The margin for error will be slimmer and we have to be ready to compete,'' Krystkowiak said. ``Hopefully, people have something to cheer about.''

There wasn't much last year, even though Washburn's game was beginning to take shape under Krystkowiak - once he finally accepted the coaching.

``I was a big Boylen fan, and when he (was fired), I was heartbroken,'' Washburn acknowledged. ``Coach K never gave up on me. I saw that and respected him instantly.''

He learned to move in Utah's motion offense, improved his decision-making and footwork in the post, and kept working on his defense and shooting.

This year he even accepted a move to the bench for nine games when Bachynski was lighting it up, and Washburn was finding early foul trouble.

The move jump-started Washburn's game.

``It was perceived as a little bit of a timeout,'' Krystkowiak said. ``But he proved to me he was about Utah and it wasn't about him by the way he practiced and (his) emotions. He didn't take it as a demotion.''

Since returning to the starting lineup, Washburn has averaged 15 points on 56 percent shooting.

``The past few games he lifted his level up and hopefully his curve is going up,'' Krystkowiak said.

The Utes still must learn to finish games, with their six losses by a combined 22 points.

The one common opponent UCLA and Utah have played is Cal State Northridge. The Bruins won 82-56, while Utah blew a 48-27 halftime lead and fell 76-71 at home.

``Guys are gaining some (pride), but the animal coming in here on Thursday is a little bit different than what we're used to,'' Krystkowiak said. ``So we're going to have to be that much better.''

Last year, the Utes lost to the Bruins 76-49 in Los Angeles. Consider it another part of the crazy road Washburn has endured - one that has seen him have 55 different teammates since he arrived in 2008.

``My time here has been so full of up and downs and rocky roads. All I want for myself and this team is to win and get this program going where I believe it can go,'' Washburn said.

A win over one of the most storied college programs would help.

``I don't want people to remember the losses and hard times, but the fact that I stuck with it as best I could and worked every offseason to improve,'' Washburn said. ``My college career is 2 1/2 months away from being over. I'm going to try to make that the longest 2 1/2 months I humanly can.''

Quick Links

NBA Rumors: Lakers reportedly waive DeMarcus Cousins

NBA Rumors: Lakers reportedly waive DeMarcus Cousins

After signing Markieff Morris to a contract following the former Wizard's buy out from the Pistons, the Lakers reportedly waived center DeMarcus Cousins to open a roster spot. 

Health has been a major issue over the last two years for Cousins. He hasn't played a game this year thanks to a torn ACL he suffered before the season, and he missed all but 30 games last year due to an Achilles injury he suffered with the Pelicans midway through the 2017-18 season. 

Before injuries robbed Cousins of the majority of his prime, he was arguably the best big man in the game. Prior to his Achilles injury in New Orleans, he was averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists while shooting 47% percent from the floor and 35.4% from three on 6.1 attempts per game. 

For the Wizards, Cousins could represent another low risk, high reward big man acquisition that the Lakers couldn't find any use for. Washington acquired both Thomas Bryant and Moe Wagner from LA for practically nothing and both have played well after their relocation to D.C. 

Also, John Wall played with Cousins at the University of Kentucky and both have mentioned a desire to play together again at some point. Neither player is expected to return from injury this season, so they could both go on an NBA revenge tour together alongside Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura. 

In the meantime, we'll have to wait and see what Cousins decides to do. According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, Cousins won't officially be waived until Sunday. The team who claims him will be able to offer him up to $4.2 million in salary this summer. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.


Quick Links

Three things to look for during the Orioles first spring training game Saturday

Three things to look for during the Orioles first spring training game Saturday

Baseball isn’t quite in full swing yet. But it’s close enough. 

The Orioles will open up their spring slate of games on Saturday against the Braves in North Port, Fla. It’s both the first game of spring training for both teams. 

The game can be listened to on Orioles.com or on the MLB At-Bat app. 

So here are three things to pay attention to during the first game of the spring: 

1. The starting pitching

The pitching was, to be frank, atrocious last season for the Orioles. 2020 doesn’t figure to showcase a large jump, either. 

Baltimore will start Chandler Shepherd against the Braves, a pitcher who started three games last season in Baltimore. He allowed 23 hits and 14 earned runs in 19 innings pitched and posted a 6.63 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.

Ty Blach will pitch in relief of Shepherd. Blach pitched in five games last season for the Orioles and threw 20 ⅓ innings with an ERA 11.32. 

While neither will likely make the Opening Day roster, it’ll give an interesting look at what could be in store for the rest of spring training in Sarasota. 

2. How much the prospects play

For most major league clubs, there’s not much to get excited about for the first few games of spring training. The Orioles, though, are in a bit of a unique circumstance. 

In the second year of a rebuild, the Orioles are placing their future in the hands of younger prospects, meaning there’s always a chance for a few players to stand out in the first weeks of camp. 

While the lineups aren’t known yet, both for Saturday’s game and for the immediate future, getting a glimpse at some of the younger prospects like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson, and DL Hall is what fans have been clamoring for. 

3. The return of baseball

It’s not the return of baseball in the truest sense of the phrase.  

The Orioles aren’t going to play their top of the line prospects, or their major league club. But the first game of the spring means that baseball, officially, is back for Baltimore. 

Even though the 2020 season almost assuredly won’t be one that resembles any kind of contention, the Orioles hitting the field once again is always an exciting time.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.