LAS VEGAS — The Utah basketball team had several heroes step forward in its unexpected 79-69 overtime victory over Cal in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
There was Jarred DuBois, who scored 15 first-half points to stake the Utes to an early lead and then hit a clutch 3-pointer with 4.0 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
How about Jason Washburn, who got the key opening tip for the Utes in overtime and sank a jump hook to get the Utes started before adding six more points in the overtime as well as a big block.
Then there was Jordan Loveridge, who played a terrific overall game with 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He hit a big 3-pointer in overtime to put the Utes up by five and later added five free throws in the OT.
One of the unsung heroes was Cedric Martin, who, despite going scoreless, hounded Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe all night and helped hold him to 6 of 18 shooting.
Then there was the Ute defense, which a lot of folks may not have noticed. Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak called it "the best defense we've played all season." The Utes held the Bears to 39.1 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.
But the Utes wouldn't be alive without DuBois, who is playing his best basketball of the season right now.
Of his game-tying shot at the end of regulation, DuBois said his only thought was "that it's going in." He said he had a "mirror image" try in a last-minute loss at Arizona.
"I said if I get in that situation again I'll do my best to make it and fortunately it went in," he said.
OVERCOMING DROUGHTS: For a while it looked one Utah's old bugaboos was going to bite them again. They had two droughts in the second half, one that lasted 6 minutes and 35 seconds as the Utes missed nine straight shots and committed a turnover. The second one lasted more than four minutes until Jeremy Olsen scored with 2:10 left to cut the lead to 53-52.
The droughts brought to mind the game at Berkeley two weeks earlier when after leading 22-14, the Utes went 10 minutes without scoring and were outscored 26-2 over a 121/2-minute span.
However, the Utes overcame the two droughts and forced overtime and eventually won by a comfortable margin.
"Our kids got to the point where they could have folded when the baskets weren't going in, but we stayed solid and the rim opened up for us," said Krystkowiak.
DOWN TO THE WIRE: You couldn't ask for a much better first couple of days of action at the Pac-12 Tournament than what were displayed Wednesday and Thursday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Nearly every game was in doubt down to the final minute of play.
On Wednesday, all four games were decided by six points or less, with one by one point, another by two points, one by three points and another by six points. Arizona State edged Stanford in overtime 89-88, Washington State held off Washington State 64-62, Utah beat USC 69-66 and Colorado edged Oregon State 74-68.
Then in the first session Thursday, UCLA came back to beat ASU 80-75 after trailing for 37 minutes and Arizona beat Colorado 79-69 in a game that was 71-69 with 1:03 left. Utah's overtime victory over Cal kept the streak of great games going in the first game of the evening session.
IMPROVED CROWDS: The crowds were much better Thursday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, at least in the afternoon session, thanks mostly to the hordes of Arizona fans. The attendance figure was 12,915 in the 13,500-seat arena.
For the Thursday evening session, the arena was about half full again with Utah fans outnumbering Cal fans by a significant number.
A couple of blocks away at the Mountain West the attendance wasn't much better. For the first-round games, the MWC crowds were 9,122 and 13,297. Over at the Orleans Arena where the WAC Tournament is being played, only a couple of thousand fans are attending each session.
FAMILIARITY: The Utah basketball team was more familiar with Las Vegas than any other team in the tournament. The Utes used to come down to Las Vegas on an annual basis, twice in fact — for a league game against UNLV and the postseason tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center — before joining the Pac-12 last year.
Before winning Wednesday night, the Utes' last win in Las Vegas came in 2010 when they beat UNLV 73-61 in a Mountain West Conference game. The Utes also beat Illinois 60-58 in the Las Vegas Invitational tournament at the Orleans Arena earlier that same season. Since 2010, the Utes had lost three straight in Las Vegas.
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