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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Utes forward David Collette (13) is heavily defended by Arizona Wildcats forward Deandre Ayton (13) and Arizona Wildcats guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (0) in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. No foul was called. Arizona won 94-82.
We knew we are going to be challenged rebounding. But they doubled us on the glass. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak

SALT LAKE CITY — A moral victory? Not in Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak’s opinion. He wasn’t buying it after the Utes dropped a 94-82 decision to 14th-ranked Arizona in the Huntsman Center. Thursday’s setback featured a comeback from 17 points down, three late ties and a loud crowd of 13,543.

“I’m not into moral victories, but two things could have happened in that second half,” Krystkowiak said. “We did take the right route and fought and scratched and managed to shoot, make some shots.”

Sedrick Barefield had the hot hand for Utah during the rally. He finished with a team-high 23 points, all but three coming in the second half.

“My teammates just did a good job finding me and I’ve been in the gym a little extra this week,” Barefield said. “So it kind of paid off down that stretch. I wish we would have hit some of the shots later in the game.”

Krystkowiak noted that after the final media timeout with four minutes to go, there were costly turnovers and missed block outs. The latter led to Arizona finishing with a 46-23 rebounding advantage. Freshman Deandre Ayton paced the Wildcats (12-3, 2-0) with a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds.

“We knew we are going to be challenged rebounding,” Krystkowiak said. “But they doubled us on the glass.”

Arizona cashed in with 23 points on second shots. Even so, Krystkowiak noted that the Utes made stops and got the ball to get back into the game. Then came some missed open looks and miscues.

“I’ll give our guys a lot of credit for battling back,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s not like we’re in here trying to figure out why we lost. If it was confusing, and I felt like we were outmanned, then I’d be making up a bunch of stuff. But it’s pretty much right there in front of us.”

Arizona seized control of the game early. The Wildcats scored the game’s first six points and went on to build an 11-3 advantage. Utah’s only score in the early stretch was a 3-pointer by Tyler Rawson.

Another drought came later in the half. After cutting the deficit to three, the Utes netted just two free throws and one basket over a span of 6:06. Arizona scored 16 points as part of a 20-6 run. The outburst extended the Wildcats’ lead to 31-14.

Utah managed to cut it down to 36-28 at one point. However, the Utes wound up trailing 46-32 at halftime.

Facing an Arizona line-up featuring two 7-footers in Ayton and Dusan Rustic, Utah struggled on the boards. The Utes shot just 36.7 percent (11 of 30) from the field. They missed nine of 12 shots from 3-point range.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, connected on 51.5 percent of their shots (17 of 33) and grabbed seven offensive rebounds, leading to a 13-4 edge in second-chance points. Parker Jackson-Cartwright topped all scorers with 13.

When play resumed, Arizona turned to Ayton. The freshman scored 13 of his 19 second-half points in a burst that allowed the Wildcats to weather a Utah rally and take a double-digit lead — at 61-50 — into the final 13 1/2 minutes

That’s when Barefield took charge for Utah. The junior reeled off nine straight points for the Utes. He hit two 3-pointers and three free throws in just over one minute to tighten the score at 61-59.

Barefield made another shot from long range with 7:24 left to play. It pulled the Utes to within 69-68 and set up the dramatic finish.

“We don’t give up,” Barreled said. “We always believe.”

It’s something, he explained, that Krystkowiak has instilled in the team. The Utes came back from 13 down to win in Oregon last week.

Utah tied the score three times in the closing minutes. The first on a layup by David Collette that made it 70-70 with 6:07 to go. The second came on a basket by Donnie Tillman less than a minute later to knot things up at 72-72. The third came at 3:45 when Collette made two free throws, making the score 77-77.

After that, Arizona took over — and how.

“We were just poised in this situation and got a tough win,” said Jackson Cartwright.

The Wildcats outscored the Utes 17-5 over the balance of the game to pull away handily.

“We just gave up some critical rebounds, had a couple of critical turnovers,” Barefield said. “We were in the game. We had a chance and I think down that stretch we kind of beat ourselves a little bit. We could have gave ourselves a better chance, but we’re just going to learn from it.”

The Utes (10-4, 2-1) host fourth-ranked Arizona State on Sunday (6 p.m., ESPNU). The Sun Devils (12-2, 0-2) dropped a 90-81 overtime decision at Colorado on Thursday.

“They’re a fast team. Something like probably haven’t seen in a while, Barefield said. “So, you know, they’re going to be coming at us. We’ve just got to prepare and practice as best as we can.”