LAS VEGAS — After losing his starting job four games ago, Utah forward Dakarai Tucker had scored a grand total of three points and gone 1 for 6 from the field while playing sparingly prior to Wednesday.
But Tucker never lost confidence in himself. Nor did his coach, Larry Krystkowiak, who had him playing at crunch time against Washington in the Utes' first-round game at the Pac-12 tournament
With the score tied at 60, Tucker hit perhaps the biggest shot of his life and certainly the biggest of the season for the Utes. His 3-pointer from the left corner with 37 seconds left put Utah ahead for good in a 67-61 victory.
“That was really a big shot for me,’’ said the soft-spoken Tucker. “I was thinking about going back to my fundamentals, tucking my elbow and putting arc on the ball.’’
Tucker may not have been thinking all that in the moment he fired up the crucial trey with the shot clock winding down below five seconds and the Utes’ tournament hopes on the line. But Tucker was plenty confident when Jordan Loveridge passed up a shot to get the ball to him in one of his favorite spots on the floor.
“I believe in Dakarai an awful lot,’’ Krystkowiak said. “We needed a shooter on the floor and (having him in) opened up the floor and they couldn’t back off anybody. He stepped up and on cue (made the basket).’’
Tucker started 22 of the Utes’ first 26 games, but Krystkowiak put Princeton Onwas back in the lineup to give the Utes more “toughness” and stronger defense. He also said that Tucker’s “tank might have been running on empty’’ late in the season and the decreased minutes might have given him some fresh legs and “oomph” for the tournament.
Tucker, who had gone scoreless in three of the past four games before making a 3-pointer against Stanford, did some extra work with his coaches last week in the Bay Area and regained confidence in his shot. He ended up playing 18 minutes Wednesday and scoring eight points, including another 3-pointer in the first half.
The Utes had gotten the ball back with 1:08 left on the clock and the game tied 60-60. After working the ball around the top, Loveridge looked like he was going to shoot before finding Tucker.
“Jordan could have taken the shot, but we talked for two days about making the extra pass,’’ said Krystkowiak. “He made a great pass to the corner to Dakarai and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.’’