LAS VEGAS — Utah exited the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament Thursday night with a 64-50 loss to sixth-ranked San Diego State.
In the process, the Pac-12 bound Utes left the conference with a whimper and a three-game losing skid. A final overall record of 13-18 this season could also lead to the departure of head coach Jim Boylen after four years on the job.
Although Utah made things look somewhat respectable with a late run, it was a disappointing way to close things out. The Utes trailed by 23 points with just over nine minutes to play and held their last lead at 10-8.
"We didn't play as well as I'd hoped," Boylen said. "I thought we had opportunities to make plays that we didn't make. But I thought we competed and played hard, and I'm proud of my group."
Utah trailed 30-15 at halftime. The Utes didn't make a basket over the final 4:43 as San Diego State pulled away. The Aztecs closed the half with an 22-5 run. They made four 3-pointers during the decisive burst.
"We were in it and the dam broke," Boylen said. "Our turnovers to touchdowns hurt us."
Boylen thought the Utes' zone worked and that they were prepared. He even liked the pace of the game.
What he didn't like, however, was how they handled San Diego State's full-court pressure.
"The difference in the first half was our poor execution against the press and our turnovers for layups," Boylen said.
Utah turned the ball over 20 times by game's end.
"Our defense dictated everything that happened," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher.
The Aztecs also outrebounded the Utes, finishing with a 42-30 advantage. Malcolm Thomas and Kawhi Leonard led the way with double-doubles. Leonard had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Thomas finished with 13 and 10.
Will Clyburn, who has been bothered by a bruised heel in recent weeks, finished with a game-high 20 points for Utah. He scored 19 in the second half, where the Utes managed to pull within nine at one point. But could draw no closer.
"I thought our team grinded pretty good," Boylen said. "(We) hung in there when we got down. We kept working and tried to get back in the game."
In the first half, Leonard led a balanced attack for San Diego State with eight rebounds and seven points. He also had two steals.
Utah, meanwhile, turned the ball over 11 times and shot just 30.4 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. Big men David Foster and Jason Washburn shared team-high scoring honors with four points apiece. Three of their four baskets came on dunks early in the game. The Utes made just four of their other 20 attempts from the field en route to a season-low scoring half.
After the game, Boylen was asked about his future with the program and speculation that he could be let go.
"There is a cloud, a cloud of negativity towards me. All I've done is work. All I've done is do what they ask me to do — develop this group of guys," Boylen said. "People want to win. I understand that. This is a rebuilding process. There's a reason I was given the contract like I was. There was a reason that I was handed the keys to this thing to drive it.
"Right now we've got to keep driving it," he continued. "It's been a little bumpy. I'll keep driving it until I'm not driving it anymore."
Boylen insists the culture on the team is good. The players care about him and he cares for them.
"We have a good team and I'm really thankful to be the coach," said Boylen, who has three years remaining on a five-year extension he signed in 2009.
He told reporters that he hasn't spoken with athletics director Chris Hill about his future.
"He leaves me alone during the season and lets me coach the team," Boylen said. "I'm sure I'll meet with him. I'm always evaluated when the season ends, every year whether we win, lose or draw or whatever. I'm evaluated and I'll be evaluated and we'll go from there."
When asked if he would bring himself back, Boylen said absolutely.
"Nobody wants to go through the pain of building this thing," he explained. "You going to start over again?"
Boylen explained that the future is bright with everyone coming back and several new pieces being added to the mix.
Question is, will he be around to coach them?
"Obviously it'll all play its way out pretty quick. The season's over," Boylen said. "I don't think we're going to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid just yet. We'll see how it plays out."
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