SALT LAKE CITY — It was a case of almost Wednesday night in the Huntsman Center. After rallying from a double-digit deficit, the Utah Utes nearly defeated the fourth-ranked Arizona Wildcats.
In the end, though, things just didn’t work out — the Utes came up short, falling 67-63 in overtime.
“We had a lot of positive things that took place,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “ ... It’s a pretty fine line with how this game goes.”
The Utes (17-9, 6-8) never led in the extra session. After exchanging a pair of free throws, the Wildcats (24-2, 11-2) eventually took the lead for good on a basket by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with 3:29 to go.
Trailing 60-58, Utah had a chance to pull in front with 2:06 left to play, but Brandon Taylor missed three free throws and Arizona went down and scored on another shot by Hollis-Jefferson to make it 62-58.
Utah cut the margin in half 33 seconds later when Delon Wright made two free throws. The Utes, though, could never get any closer despite having opportunities to do so. They followed an Arizona miss with a turnover and were unable to get a 3-point shot off before an intentional foul when it was 65-62 with 2.3 seconds remaining.
The outcome spoiled what would have been a comeback from a double-digit deficit against one of the nation’s elite teams.
“One of the things that I was most proud of was that we came back,” Krystkowiak said.
Although Utah held a pair of early five-point leads, Arizona stormed back and built a 35-26 advantage by halftime. The Wildcats wrested control with a 14-0 run over a span of 4:38. The outburst gave them a 25-16 lead before a basket by Taylor broke the drought with 6:12 remaining in the half.
The Utes managed to cut the deficit to 25-20 but could draw no closer before the half was complete, eventually trailing by 11 with just less than two minutes to go.
Arizona shot 54.2 percent from the field in the first half and made four 3-pointers. Utah connected on 44.4 percent of its shots, making only two from behind the arc over the opening 20 minutes of play.
There was a pivotal reversal in the second half, however, as the Utes climbed back into contention.
While Arizona missed 11 of the first 17 shots it took, Utah made better than 50 percent in pulling to within 48-44 with 8:54 left to play. The Utes rallied with a lineup featuring three true freshmen — Ahmad Fields, Princeton Onwas and Kenneth Ogbe — on the floor with sophomores Taylor and Jeremy Olsen.
After Arizona rebuilt its lead back to eight, Utah fired back and eventually took the lead at 53-52. Jordan Loveridge scored his first two points of the game on a pair of free throws with 3:40 remaining in regulation to put the Utes on top.
Three lead changes ensued before Loveridge made another free throw to knot it up at 56-56 with 28 seconds on the clock. A last-second shot by Arizona’s T.J. McConnell missed the mark, forcing overtime.
Utah returns to action Sunday night at home against Arizona State.
EXTRA STUFF: The attendance was a season-high 14,266. ... Utah is now 5-3 all time against top-five teams at home. The last win was a 51-49 victory over No. 1 Alabama on Dec. 24, 2002. ... Arizona remains the only Pac-12 team Utah has not beaten since joining the conference in 2011-12. The Utes are 0-6 against the Wildcats.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company