STANFORD, Calif. — As disappointed as the Utah Utes were after Saturday’s 61-60 loss at Stanford, they weren’t writing anything off.
Sure, the ill-timed loss cost them a shot at one of the higher seeds in next week’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. It also snapped a three-game winning streak.
Despite it all, the Utes (20-10, 9-9) are determined to turn the page on the regular season and gear up for postseason play.
“We ended that chapter,” said guard Brandon Taylor, who led Utah with 14 points. “Let’s move on.”
Taylor added that he didn’t care where the Utes were seeded because he was confident they could compete with anyone in the Pac-12.
Even so, Taylor acknowledged that Saturday’s setback did sting — a lot.
“It was a game that got away from us. It came to the end. We fought to the wire,” he said. “At the end of the day we never gave in so that’s the only thing you can really be glad for.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had similar thoughts as Taylor. He, too, mentioned that the loss “smarts.” For the Utes, it was a tale of two halves.
“I think everybody in that locker room knows that the second half was really good,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got the concept of playing hard and we’ve got a lot of winners.”
Guts will take you so far, he added, and keep you in some games.
However, things didn’t go so well in the first half.
“I felt like they punched us in the mouth,” Krystkowiak said. “ ... We got pounded. A lot of credit goes to Stanford.”
Utah got off to a very jittery start. The Utes turned the ball over seven times while falling into a 16-4 deficit less than 6 1/2 minutes into the game.
Center Jeremy Olsen, who did not see any action in Wednesday’s win over California, came off the bench and provided some spark for Utah. The sophomore scored back-to-back baskets as the Utes closed the gap to 16-8. He also made two more shots later in the half to put the margin back to eight.
“We were struggling and I was able to get some opportunities on the low block and go to work and get some buckets,” said Olsen, who wound up going 6 for 6 from the field. “So it was good.”
Taylor was also a factor in Utah’s climb back to contention — hitting two 3-pointers, the first when the Utes trailed 22-10 and the second when the deficit was 27-16.
The latter fueled a 9-3 run that allowed Utah to pull within five points, 30-25, after a basket by Dallin Bachynski with 1:26 remaining in the half. Wright had four points in the outburst.
Stanford, though, responded by scoring the final three points before the break. The Cardinal led 33-25 at halftime, netting 14 points off of 13 turnovers by the Utes.
Stanford's late run failed, however, to sway the momentum completely back to the home team's favor. Utah opened the second half with a 5-0 burst — featuring a 3-pointer by Jordan Loveridge and a layup from Bachynski — to tighten the score at 33-30. An exchange of baskets ensued before a four-point stretch allowed the Cardinal to increase their lead to 39-32.
Although Utah was able to cut it back to five on four occasions over the next eight minutes, Stanford countered each time and wound up holding a 54-43 advantage at one point.
That’s when the Utes opted for an outside attack. In a span of 26 seconds, Wright and Taylor hit 3-point shots to ignite a rally. With 5:40 to go, a layup by Olsen narrowed Stanford’s lead to 54-51. It was later 56-53 and then 57-53 before Taylor drilled a 3-pointer to close it to 57-56 with 4:02 remaining.
The Utes took their first lead of the game on a dunk by Bachynski at 2:40.
It didn’t last long, though, as Josh Huestis countered with a 3-pointer for the Cardinal just 21 seconds later to set up the dramatic conclusion.
Trailing 60-58, Utah knotted the score on a pair of free throws by Bachynski with 55.4 seconds left to play. The Utes never scored again.
The game-winning point came on a foul shot by Dwight Powell with 36.1 seconds on the clock. It ended a run of seven consecutive missed free throws by Stanford.
Final possessions by Utah ended with a traveling call with just less than two seconds remaining and an errant desperation throw as time expired.
Olsen acknowledged it was frustrating, noting that the Utes had an opportunity at the end but the play just broke down and they weren’t able to execute.
“For as bad as we played to still have the opportunity to come on top is good,” he said. “But there’s no moral victories in the end. We lost and we’ve got to move on and get ready for the postseason.”