For us to be able to go 15 for 17 from the free throw line in a game of that magnitude, down the stretch making them, it turned out to be just what we needed. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah guard Parker Van Dyke said Thursday night’s 84-78 victory over UCLA was a game he’ll never forget and a great win.
He may have understated the situation.
The junior from nearby East High School scored a career-high 18 points and made a pair of key 3-pointers in the closing minutes as the Utes improved to 18-9 overall and 10-6 in Pac-12 play with their fifth consecutive triumph. They’re now tied with the Bruins (19-9, 10-6) for third place with two games to go before next month’s conference tournament in Las Vegas.
“It was really cool. I mean I actually had a little flashback thinking of him as a little shaver coming to these games when he was just a little ankle-biter,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiaki. “To be on a stage like that and a point like that hitting two big threes was huge.”
A pair of seniors also had big nights for the Utes. Forward David Collette finished with a team-high 21 points and made all nine shots he attempted from the field. Guard Justin Bibbins posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists.
“I think the big thing was our free throws. When you look at that it’s something that we’re not going to talk about a whole lot,” Krystkowiak said. “But for us to be able to go 15 for 17 from the free throw line in a game of that magnitude, down the stretch making them, it turned out to be just what we needed.”
Trailing 22-15 midway through the first half, Utah surged back into contention. A 3-pointer by Bibbins and six points from Collette powered a 9-2 run that tied things up. A few minutes later, Donnie Tillman made a 3-pointer to give the Utes their first lead at 27-26. The freshman followed it up with a steal and a dunk.
After UCLA knotted the score for the fourth time, Utah seized control with back-to-back 3-pointers by Bibbins and Tyler Rawson to make it 35-29 with 4:21 left to play in the half. It fueled an 11-3 burst than gave the Utes an eight-point advantage.
Although the Bruins eventually cut the deficit to 42-40, Utah wound up leading 47-40 at halftime. Collette was 6 for 6 from the field over the first 20 minutes, while Tillman was 3 for 4. Bibbins had seven assists.
The Utes shot 64.3 percent (18 of 28) from the field and made 7 of 13 from 3-point range. The Bruins, meanwhile, made 41.7 percent (15 of 36) their shots and were outscored 12-2 on points off of turnovers. Collette’s success led Utah to an 18-8 edge in points in the paint.
When play resumed, the Utes came out firing. They scored the first seven points of the second half to lead 54-40. UCLA was held scoreless for nearly 31/2 minutes. The Bruins awoke from their slumber with a 27-16 spurt over the next 14 minutes. It closed the gap to one point.
That’s when Van Dyke hit the first of two 3-point shots in the final 2:15. Leading 73-69, Utah held on down the stretch with Van Dyke’s second long connection and eight free throws over the last 90 seconds. Bibbins led the way with four, while Gabe Bealer and Van Dyke added two apiece as the Utes remained in front.
“It was a close call. It was guys making some plays,” Krystkowiak said. “I thought we got a couple of key stops.”
Krystkowiak added that Collette was terrific and that Tyler Rawson (12 points, 7 rebounds) was good, as was Bibbins with his line.
Utah has a quick turnaround. The Utes host USC. (20-9, 11-5) Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The Trojans defeated Colorado 75-64 on Wednesday.
“I love our chances, especially if we continue to do what we do,” Van Dyke said of Utah’s bid for an NCAA tournament berth. “The thing is with these five games we’ve won is we’ve had great practices leading up to each game and so we have to continue to do that.”
Van Dyke added that’s it’s not s time to rest and relax.
“We’ve got to continue to improve and get better,” he said.