SALT LAKE CITY — An unlikely trio fueled a dramatic Utah comeback against No. 9-ranked Arizona on Sunday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes erased a 13-point second-half deficit and pulled into a late tie thanks to freshman Dakarai Tucker, who hadn’t played a minute in five Pac-12 games and very little in the others, freshman Jeremy Olsen, who has 10 DNPs to his credit this year, and Glen Dean, who lost his starting job to freshman Brandon Taylor four games ago.
Alas, it wasn’t quite enough as shaky free-throw shooting and an inability to get key rebounds cost the Utes down the stretch in a 68-64 loss, their second close defeat to the Wildcats this season.
Olsen tied his career high with 12 points and added six rebounds in just 15 minutes; Tucker sank a pair of 3-pointers; and Dean played tough defense and handed out five assists as the three players led a late surge along with freshman Jordan Loveridge and senior Jarred DuBois.
“That was the comeback group,’’ said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “That was a good crew. You never quite know and you can’t ever predict going into games which five (will produce).’’
“We need our bench,’’ Krystkowiak continued. “We’ve had a number of different starting lineups and guys that are now bench players maybe were starting at one point It doesn’t mean a whole lot to me or our guys which five guys (do the job).’’
After trailing by 13 early in the half, the Utes were down 48-37 when the rally began.
First Olsen hit back-to-back buckets inside, followed by the first of Tucker’s treys to cut Arizona's lead to 49-44 as the Huntsman Center started rocking.
Following a basket by Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski, the Utes ran off seven straight points as DuBois knocked down a 3-pointer, Olsen followed his own miss and then Jason Washburn, who had just replaced Olsen, scored on a follow shot with 7:26 left to tie the game.
After Arizona ran off five straight points, Tucker sank his second 3-pointer to make it a two-point game at 56-54, but that was as close as the Utes got, as three missed free throws and too much Mark Lyons, who scored nine points in the final six minutes, made the difference.
“I thought Dakarai gave us a big lift,’’ said Krystkowiak. “I thought his 3s were huge and gave us some momentum.’’
As for his other bench players, the Ute coach said, “I thought Jeremy was good in the post and he battled on the glass. And Glen gave us a big lift defending, taking care of the basketball and getting us some shots.’’
BIG SUNDAY CROWD: A lot of folks figured the Utes would struggle attendance-wise with a pair of Sunday Pac-12 games this year, particularly the afternoon game against Arizona Sunday.
Turns out there was nothing to worry about.
The Utes had their best crowd of the season as 11,712 turned out at the Huntsman Center to see the Utes give Arizona a tough game that went down to the final minute.
One reason for the big crowd was that all military personnel and first responders (police, fire, etc.) and their families received free tickets to the game. That was a big reason for the larger-than-expected crowd as a long line snaked out to the circle in front of the Huntsman Center until midway through the first half.
The first Sunday game in Utah basketball history was last month against Stanford when a crowd of 7,769 showed up for an evening game.
UTE NOTES: The Utes wore special uniforms with black trim and jerseys that had "FREEDOM" on the back instead of player names. ... Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was in the crowd with his wife. ... The last two times Arizona played in the Huntsman Center, the Wildcats won by 26 (77-51 last year) and by 30 (73-43 in 2005). ... The Utes next have three straight road games — at Colorado this week and at Cal and Stanford next week — before closing out the regular season with games against Oregon State and Oregon.
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