STANFORD, Calif. — The Utah basketball team has lived and died by its shooting all season. When the Utes are shooting well, they can compete with most teams and even win some games. When they're not, they lose.
The Utes actually shot well Thursday night, but still lost to Stanford 68-65 at Maples Pavilion because of a couple of big dry shooting spells.
Utah shot 50.9 percent from the field, but a 1-for-11 stretch to start the game and a six-minute drought in the second half, spelled doom for the Utes in a game they had a chance to win or at least force overtime.
Down by 10 points inside the final minute, the Utes fought back and had two chances in the final five seconds to force overtime. After Dijon Farr missed a free throw with 8.3 seconds left, the Utes got the rebound and Chris Hines had an open jumper from the top of the key.
The shot just missed and went off a Stanford player in the corner by the Ute bench with 1.9 seconds left. The Utes wanted to get the ball to Hines again, but Josh Watkins had to fire up a long 3-pointer from the right angle that missed everything.
"I had a little sneaking suspicion that we were going to force overtime," said coach Larry Krystkowiak, who lamented that the Utes didn't. "But it was encouraging that we did this on the road. I told the guys a long time ago, if we play hard, I don't care if we win lose or draw as long as we don't cheat the game. I think they're starting to grasp that concept a little bit."
Trailing 30-23 at halftime, the Utes came out on fire with their best shooting display of the season. They hit their first 10 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers by Watkins and one by Farr to grab a 47-44 lead with 12:15 left. The margin could have been more, but Cedric Martin missed all of his foul shots after getting fouled on a 3-pointer.
"The rim was really big to start the half and it probably couldn't be expected to stay that way," Krystkowiak said.
He was right.
The Utes didn't score form more than six minutes until Jason Washburn scored on a hook shot inside with 5:45 left to cut the Stanford lead to 54-49.
Watkins missed three straight free throws (the two teams combined for a horrid 6-of-26 from the line) or the Utes could have been within four points with a little over two minutes left.
Stanford led 66-56 with 47.5 seconds left and it looked like the Utes were toast. However, Watkins scored on a drive, Wasburn scored inside and Cedric Martin hit a 3-pointer with 18.3 seconds left and suddenly it was 66-63.
At this point, the Cardinal were an atrocious 3 of 15 from the foul line, but Josh Huestis hit two free throws with 17 seconds left to give Stanford a five-point cushion.
But with 8.3 seconds left, Farr was fouled after making a basket, setting up the final sequence when the Utes had two chances to tie.
Watkins, who scored 16 points, put the blame on himself because of his 1-for-5 from the foul line and seven turnovers.
"I put this one on me," he said. "I missed four free throws and that's not me. I just got to do better and make smarter decisions. But we played to the end and we know we can compete with anybody."
Hines led all scorers with a career-high 21 points, while Farr scored 10, in addition to Watkins' 16 points. For the game, the Utes were 27 of 53 from the field, but only 1 of 9 from the free throw line.
"Whenever you're 1 for 9 from the free throw line . . ." Krystkowiak said, not finishing the sentence.
Stanford was led by Huestis, who scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. Josh Owens and Chasson Randle added 11 points apiece for the Cardinal, who shot 53.8 percent from the field.
The Utes started the game poorly and trailed 12-2, midway through the first half. They started finding the basket and cut the lead to two, fell behind by 14, then pulled within seven at 30-23, thanks to a 7-0 run to end the half.
Utah next plays Saturday at Cal (8:30 p.m. MT), which defeated Colorado Thursday night.
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