HONOLULU — It's one thing to lose to defending NCAA runner-up Butler or to an 8-3 Hawaii team on its home floor.
It's quite another to lose to a 2-10 San Diego team that hadn't beaten a Division I team all season, was picked to finish last in its league and had lost the first two games of the tournament by a combined 50 points.
That's what happened to the Utah basketball team, which exited the eight-team Diamond Head Classic in eighth place after a 67-64 loss to the Toreros on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Needless to say, it was not a very Merry Christmas for the Utes, who dropped to 7-6 on the season with their third straight loss.
The Utes fell behind early again and tried to dig themselves out of a hole all game long in the contest that began at 9 a.m. Hawaii time. But USD looked better prepared and more motivated and outplayed the Utes most of the game, especially down the stretch.
"We got into a hole again to start the game and had to battle our way back," said dejected Ute coach Jim Boylen. "(The slow start) was keyed by poor execution, missed opportunities and our transition defense. We gave them some easy plays in transition after missed shots."
Like they have several times this year, the Utes battled back from a large deficit to make a game of it. This time, they trailed by 12 points early in the second half only to tie the game in a five-minute, 13-1 run.
"Defensively, there was a stretch in the second half where we were as good as we've been," Boylen said. "They turned the ball over and we got ourselves back in the game."
However, after taking their first lead of the game at 49-48 with 9:24 left, the Utes let the Toreros run off six straight points.
Utah came back to tie it at 60 with 1:31 left on a pair of free throws by Jason Washburn, who had perhaps his best game of the year with 16 points and eight rebounds.
But on USD's ensuing possession, Washburn fouled Chris Manresa, his fifth foul of the game, and Manresa's free throws put San Diego up for good at 62-60.
The Utes called their final time-out of the game with 59 seconds left to presumably get a good shot off before the 35-second mark. However, after passing the ball for most of the shot clock, all the Utes could get was a desperation 3-pointer by Will Clyburn from NBA range with 26 seconds left.
"We threw the ball to Jay Watkins on the block and were hoping he could go to work and create, but he didn't," said Boylen. "We were looking for an inside-out play and didn't get it."
From there, Devin Ginty sank 5-of-6 free throws to salt the game away.
Like in their previous two games here, turnovers were a problem as the Utes had 16, including 12 in the decisive first half.
"Our guards … (Josh) Watkins and (Chris) Kupets had eight," said Boylen. "Your point guards can't have eight turnovers. They've got to do a better job."
The Utes also had trouble shooting again, making 38.6 percent from the field and going just 2-of-16 from 3-point range, following up on Thursday's 1-for-15 performance against Hawaii.
"Obviously our 3-point shooting is a concern," Boylen said. "We did not shoot the ball well here in Hawaii. You have to make shots against the zone and we're seeing more and more zone."
Clyburn led the Utes with 19 points and, besides Washburn's 16, Jay Watkins scored 13. San Diego got a career-high 14 from Jordan Mackie, 13 from Ginty and 12 from Darian Norris.
"We came here expecting to win three games," said Washburn. "We lost all three games the same way — turnovers, rebounds and lack of effort to get over the hump. We were close in all three games, but none of us wanted to give enough individual effort to get over that."
Despite the three losses in Hawaii this week, Boylen is still feeling positive about his team.
"I like this group of guys and think we did some good things on this trip," he said. "I don't think we've played a full 40-minute game yet. We have to play smarter for more of the game and we have to play with more grit. We've been fighting out of holes all year long. It wears on you, especially against good teams."
Not to mention, bad teams as well.
The Utes will fly home tonight and get ready to play another West Coast Conference team, Portland, on Friday afternoon before starting Mountain West Conference play next week.
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