Utah Utes basketball: Utes play well, but fall short at Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. — There were plenty of things to ponder after Utah's 70-61 loss to Arizona before a crowd of 14,084 in the McKale Center.
The Utes' resolve was not one of them. They led early and often and even bounced back from a blistering run by the Wildcats.
In the end, though, it wasn't quite enough.
"The environment was terrific and our guys played their butts off," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "I should probably leave it at that so I don't get myself in trouble."
What Krystkowiak declined to comment on was how the Utes attempted 15 fewer free throws than the Wildcats despite playing a zone defense. The latter proved troublesome early on as Arizona missed nine of its first 10 shots from the field.
The Utes capitalized on the situation by opening the game with a 5-0 run and later building three 13-point advantages. They shot 54.5 percent (12 of 22) in the first half, including 4-of-5 accuracy from 3-point range, to keep the Wildcats at a distance.
Arizona fell in a 12-2 hole and didn't make its second basket until 10:49 remained in the half. Utah went on to lead 33-25 at the break.
The Utes remained in front until the Wildcats went on a 15-0 run in the second half. Brendon Lavender capped the outburst with a 3-pointer to give them their first lead at 46-43 with 12:09 left to play.
It failed, however, to put Utah away. The Utes, who had been held scoreless for 4:44, responded with eight straight points to reclaim the lead entering the final 10 minutes.
A seesaw battled ensued with Arizona pulling even at 51-51. The Wildcats followed suit again when Utah took leads of 53-51, 56-53, 59-56 and 61-58.
Lavender erased the last deficit on a 3-pointer with 4:16 to go.
The score stayed knotted at 61-61 for nearly three minutes before the Wildcats connected once again from beyond the arc.
Nick Johnson, who finished with a game-high 18 points, hit the game-winning shot as part of a game-ending 12-0 run by Arizona.
The outcome lifted the Wildcats to 18-8 overall and 9-4 in Pac-12 play. The Utes, who have now lost six consecutive games, fell to 5-20 and 2-11.
"Utah really stole our confidence today," said Arizona coach Sean Miller. "And we are extremely fortunate to come out with the win."
Dating back to last season, the Utes have lost 15 straight games away from the Huntsman Center.
Winning in Tucson, obviously, would have been big.
"It's a nine-point game but it wasn't a nine-point game," Krystkowiak said. "It's a pretty fine line to making a play and having a whole different result."
Krystkowiak noted that his postgame remarks to the team where a lot like what he said after Thursday's 57-52 loss at Arizona State. He was proud of how they continued to fight and made plays for each other.
"We're starting to figure it out. It's not about individuals," Krystkowiak said. "We are going to have to do it collectively."
The Utes shot 50 percent (23 of 46) in the game and wound up with 16 assists. They grabbed 27 rebounds, one less than the Wildcats.
"It was a fight. It was a game full of runs," said Cedric Martin, who finished with 15 points and a career-high seven assists for the Utes. "That's what it was. We hit them with a run, they hit us with a run — back-and-forth, back-and-forth — but they succeeded in the end."
Indeed, the bottom line is it's another loss and a difficult one for the Utes.
"It's kind of heartbreaking," said center Jason Washburn. "I don't have a lot of words to describe it."
The Utes were there, he added while noting the second-half leads, but a few key mistakes allowed the Wildcats to get back in the game.
"It just didn't work out for us in the end," Washburn said.
Utah returns to action Saturday at home against Colorado. The Utes will host California and Stanford the following week before closing out the regular season March 1-3 at Oregon State and Oregon.
GAME NOTES: Washburn had 15 points to share team-high honors with Martin. ... The Utes made nine 3-pointers. Martin and Chris Hines each had three, while Kareem Storey made two. Dijon Farr has the other one, and had a game-high 11 rebounds.
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