LEXINGTON, Ky. — There were two stretches in Utah’s game against Kentucky Saturday that showed what the Utes look like when they’re firing on all cylinders, and what they have looked like for the majority of the season.
The latter of the two stretches was mostly present for the Utes against the Wildcats, as Utah dropped below .500 for the first time this season with an 88-61 loss to No. 19-ranked Kentucky.
Turnovers were the Utes' the biggest killer, as Utah coughed up the ball 18 times leading to 34 Kentucky points. That’s the most points off turnovers Utah has surrendered all season.
“That was probably the big key, (but) give them credit for knocking down shots,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. “Knew that had been a point of emphasis, and we played zone pretty much the entire game, and that’s maybe what you’re going to have to give up.”
The Wildcats scored on 15 possessions off Utah’s 18 turnovers. Six of those turnovers resulted in layups or dunks and four ended in 3-pointers, two from Immanuel Quickley and two from Keldon Johnson, who finished with a career-high six 3-pointers for the game.
Utah turned the ball over six times in the final 11:52, which allowed Kentucky to stretch its lead from 10 points to 27. The Utes shot 4 for 14 during that span, while missing their final five shots of the game.
“Well, for us, turning the ball over puts a lot of pressure on your defense, so you got two (issues): You got an offensive issue and a defensive issue,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s hard to guard this team in transition, you can’t defend turnovers and you certainly can’t defend the free-throw line. We did a decent job of not fouling, but the turnovers was a little bit crazy.”
Something Krystkowiak took away from the turnovers were the four shot-clock violations Utah committed. Three of those came in the first half and all but one of the shot-clock violations ended in Kentucky making a basket on the other end.
“I said it to our team, I was hoping they wouldn’t take me literally, is a lot of times the defense will break down, if you make them guard you for 28 seconds you could still get a really good shot with two seconds to go,” Krystkowiak said. “I said early in the week I’d be OK with a shot-clock violation, because at least they have to take it out of bounds, and I think our guys actually took that as coaching, and we decided to do it about five or six times.”
Utah only had one shot clock violation in the second half, which was when it played its best in the game.
Before the Wildcats finished the game on a 31-14 run, the Utes used a 20-12 run early in the second half to cut Kentucky’s lead from 18 to 10. Utah did not turn the ball over once during that 6:07 span, and during that stretch the Utes knocked down eight consecutive shots.
“When we were scoring, we were executing, getting out, pushing the ball, being unselfish, getting in the paint and making plays for people,” Sedrick Barefield, who finished with four points, said after the game.
Both Gach scored eight points during that run to help the freshman finish with a new career-high of 22 points. Gach also scored the first eight points of the game for Utah, helping them get off to a hot start.
“I felt like a little vibe coming to me during warmups. I was just feeling really good today,” Gach said.
However, Gach and Jayce Johnson were Utah’s only double-digit scorers. Utah’s top three scorers entering the game finished with a combined 12 points on 4-for-20 shooting. They also committed six of the 18 turnovers.8 comments on this story
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to have some of your players step up,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got too many one-for-sevens and one-for-sixes and one-for-fours on the stat sheet. When you play at this level — anytime you play a top-20 team, players need to make plays."
It won’t be long before Utah faces another top-20 team, as the Utes will end 2018 by facing Nevada before starting conference play. Playing Kentucky was a chance to see how Utah stacked up against top competition, and now the Utes know what it takes to compete with the best.
“Ultimately, we just got to be better and we got to keep getting better if we want to compete and win games like that,” Barefield said. “I feel like we got the talent, we just not putting it together right now.”