SALT LAKE CITY — Less than 24 hours after a 67-63 overtime loss to fourth-ranked Arizona, the Utah Utes returned to the Huntsman Center for practice.
“It’s partly cloudy but the sun came up,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “So it’s all good.”
Even so, the loss to the Wildcats was painful.
The Utes had multiple opportunities to alter the outcome — mostly from the free-throw line, where a late miss in regulation and four in overtime proved costly. Turnovers and shooting woes also weighed heavily in a contest featuring seven lead changes and six ties.
“There’s so many of those little moments of truth throughout the course of a game,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to be better at it than we were last night.”
Ultimately, it all added up to nullify a Utah rally from 12 points down in the second half.
Sophomore guard Brandon Taylor, who entered the game hitting 86 percent of his free throws, missed four in overtime — including three when the Utes trailed 60-58 with 3:29 remaining.
“You don’t want to feel the way that I felt last night. I felt disgusted. I just felt all kinds of feelings that weren’t good,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t fight it and some of those are still lingering around today.”
To combat the negativity, Taylor has tried to look back at the game as a whole. He finished with a team-high 13 points and five assists.
“I know I played really, really hard throughout the game — offensively and defensively,” said Taylor, who acknowledged not really having answers for what happened. “I can’t sit here and harp on it. I can’t sit here and just think about it all day long. I’m not going to get anywhere.
“I can’t change anything that happened,” he continued. “I wish things would have happened differently.”
Taylor felt like he rushed himself a bit and was thinking about everything that could go wrong while at the line in clutch time — things he normally doesn’t do. In retrospect, Taylor wishes he had been more comfortable.
“I know I’m a good free-throw shooter and I know I’m better than how I performed yesterday. But sometimes stuff happens,” Taylor said. “I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, you know, and hopefully it’s for a better outcome.”
Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge also had a tough outing. He was just 1-of-12 from the field and missed a free throw with 28 seconds remaining in regulation that would have put Utah ahead.
Loveridge, who finished with seven points, said it was just one of those games where shots weren’t falling.
And then there were the other variables that factored into Utah’s second home loss of the season.
“It was just a little bit of everything,” Loveridge said. “We had opportunities that we missed. You just wish you could have those back.”
The loss dropped the Utes to 17-9 overall and 6-8 in Pac-12 play. The Utes are in a seventh-place tie with Washington with four games left in the regular season.
“It hurts because we knew we could have won that game,” Taylor said. “But we really played. We went out there and competed and we never gave up.”
Fighting back from 12 points down wasn’t the only positive. In a 65-56 loss at Arizona on Jan. 16, Utah was outrebounded 40-29 and gave up 20 offensive boards. On Wednesday, the Utes knocked the latter down to 11 and wound up winning the overall rebounding battle by a 37-31 margin.
“The focal point we had all week was rebounding and making some plays against the best defensive team in our league, which was really good,” Krystkowiak said before noting that a couple of bad stretches overshadowed the good ones.
Utah held a couple of early five-point advantages before Arizona reeled off 14 straight points en route to building a 35-26 halftime lead. The Wildcats remained in front until the Utes took a pair of one-point leads in the final 3:40 of regulation.
Utah never led in overtime.
“Of course it hurts. But there’s nothing you can really do. You can’t go back or anything. So I think our mindset is just trying to win the next one,” Loveridge said. “That’s what our mindset has always been — if you have a tough game, win or lose — just try to worry about the next one.”
The Utes host Arizona State (19-7, 8-5) Sunday night at 6. The Sun Devils are coming off a 61-52 loss at Colorado on Wednesday.
When Utah returns to action, Krytskowiak isn’t worried about young players like Loveridge and Taylor shaking off disappointing performances against Arizona. Being able to bounce back, he said, is part of growing up.
“Fresh off of the stuff last night, guys might be feeling like they’re down. But for me it’s no different than if we won,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s really about the process and the journey of trying to get better. I like to believe we’re going to keep getting better.”
Krystkowiak sees no need for psychotherapy. He says it’s all about getting back in the saddle of trying again.
“This is not the ‘feel sorry for yourself’ time of year, really. And it’s not that I expect these guys to get through it on their own because I’ll share some thoughts with them,” Krystkowiak said. “But for the most part, it’s not paralysis by analysis. What we have in front of us is pretty easy to try to improve on.”
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