Utah basketball: Utes get 'punched in the mouth' by Arizona in Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LAS VEGAS — Eight minutes. That’s all it took for top-seeded Arizona to dash any hopes Utah had of pulling an upset Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (29-3), who prevailed 71-39, disposed of the Utes (21-11) quicker than a slot machine, blackjack table or shady game of dice out on the Las Vegas Strip could take away a family nest egg, college fund or inheritance.
It was downright ugly, decisive and unforgiving. Utah’s final point total was the lowest in Pac-12 tournament history. It was also the program’s most lopsided loss since a 31-point setback at Stanford on Jan. 27, 2013.
The Utes’ previous 10 losses this season had come by a combined total of 45 points.
“It’s really unfortunate for us,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “This is the first game in 30-some games where we’ve really had it handed to us.”
Krystkowiak credited Arizona’s defense.
“They really punched us in the mouth,” he said. “And it’s a tough way to end.”
At 21-11 overall, the Utes are hopeful to secure a bid to the NIT. They’ve already applied to host a first-round game.
“We’re not ready to be an NCAA Final Four team. I think Arizona is,” Krystkowiak said. “And maybe this is a situation for us, potentially, the next step in our program might be an NIT trip.”
While acknowledging it would take a number of wins to get there, Krystkowiak noted that he’d love to get to the NIT’s final four at Madison Square Garden in New York City — to get a taste of it and use it as a building block for the program.
Despite the lopsided outcome against Arizona, Utah is making progress since joining the Pac-12. The Utes have gone from six wins to 15 to 21 in three seasons.
Even so, Krystkowiak said they’ve still got things to work on.
There was plenty of evidence of that on Thursday.
Leading 7-6, Arizona held Utah scoreless for exactly eight minutes while seizing absolute control of the game. The Wildcats went on a 15-0 run while the Utes missed seven shots. By the time Arizona’s lead swelled to 22-6, Utah was outrebounded 12-6 and had turned the ball over five times.
Things grew worse as the Wildcats went on to hold a commanding 34-13 halftime lead. The Utes’ top three scorers — Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor — had zero points over the first 20 minutes.
Loveridge finally got on the board with a pair of free throws with 16:37 left to play — his only points in the game. Wright’s initial scores also came from the line. He made a pair with 11:15 to go and wound up with five points. Taylor wound up getting blanked.
Wright, Loveridge and Taylor shot a combined 1 of 16 from the field. As a team, the Utes connected on only 25.5 percent of their attempts. Dallin Bachynski topped the team with nine points.
Another key stat was rebounding. Arizona wound up with a 39-24 advantage.
The Wildcats continued to roll in the second half, extending their lead to 36 points with just more than three minutes remaining. Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell wound up with 14 and 13 points, respectively, to lead the way.
“The better team won,” Loveridge said. “I don’t know how else to really explain it.”
When pressed for an answer, Loveridge explained that Arizona’s defense made things difficult for the Utes.
“It was tough to get shots up and when we did get shots up every shot was contested,” he said. “There wasn’t an easy shot.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller was understandably pleased with the performance. He praised his team for having an excellent defensive day.
“We were locked in,” said Miller, who noted that the effort level allowed the Wildcats to really do what they wanted to do on defense.
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