LAS VEGAS — Shortly after Utah’s 79-69 overtime victory over California in the Pac-12 Tournament, head coach Larry Krystkowiak had three words for Jarred DuBois and Jordan Loveridge before joining the players on stage for a post-game press conference.
“Well, well, well,” Krystkowiak said.
No other words, perhaps, could describe the improbable win any better. In knocking off the second-seeded Bears, the 10th-seeded Utes advanced to Friday’s tournament semifinals against Oregon. Tip-off is set for 9:38 p.m. MDT on ESPN.
Despite an overall record of 15-17, Utah is two victories away from an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. That, however, is not on the minds of the upstart Utes, winners of four consecutive games for the first time since 2009.
“We’re just looking at it one game at a time. We can’t look or get ahead of ourselves,” said Loveridge, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. “We’re just trying to play every game as hard as we can and try to see how far we can make it.”
DuBois, the team leader with 21 points, noted that the Utes are approaching the situation as a one-game season.
“You win one night, you play the next,” he said. “Plain and simple.”
There was nothing plain and simple about Friday night’s win, however. The Utes made some big plays when it counted most. They overcame an eight-point deficit in the final 11:30 of regulation. Loveridge hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the run and DuBois capped things off with a game-tying shot beyond the arc with four seconds remaining.
The graduate student said he knew it was going in.
Utah’s confidence and momentum carried over into the extra session. The Utes never trailed after opening overtime with a basket by Jason Washburn and another 3-pointer from Loveridge. Cal never got closer than three over the final 3:31 of play. Utah extended its lead by game’s end, finishing with a 13-6 spurt to more than seal the deal.
“I thought it was a fantastic college basketball game,” Krystkowiak said. “Obviously, the result made it a little bit more appealing.”
As expected, Cal coach Mike Montgomery saw things differently. He acknowledged it was obviously very disappointing for the Bears (20-11).
“We had our chances,” Montgomery said. “We were there.”
In the end, though, 26 points from Justin Cobbs and 21 from Allen Crabbe weren't enough to change the outcome.
“Give Utah credit. They’re playing very, very well,” Montgomery said. “Larry’s done a great job with them. They’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
So much so, in fact, that the Utes snapped a run of 26 consecutive Pac-12 losses when trailing at halftime — ending the skid against one of just three conference foes they had yet to beat since joining the conference in 2011-12. Cal was 4-0 against Utah in that time, including triumphs in Salt Lake City (62-57) and Berkeley (64-46) earlier this season.
“There are not a lot of words for a win like that. Cal has been getting on us for the past two years in the Pac-12 and they beat us up this year, bad, both times,” Washburn said. “To come out here and for this team to step up, it shows our growth. It showed us that a team can beat you 99 times out of 100 but that still leaves one time.”
Despite holding an early seven-point lead, Utah trailed 33-32 at halftime.
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