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Utah forward Donnie Tillman (3) drives against Arizona guard Dylan Smith during the first half in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TUCSON, Ariz. — Utah opened Pac-12 play with a split on the road. However, the Utes came oh-so-close to sweeping a trip to Arizona State and Arizona. They came from behind to defeat the Sun Devils (96-86) and then dropped an overtime decision to the Wildcats (84-81).

Before departing the McKale Center Saturday, sophomore forward Donnie Tillman noted that the team showed “a little more desire” in the games, upping their confidence and aggression.

“That’s one thing I can say. We want it,” he said. “A lot of guys are stepping up.”

Tillman was one of them, noting the need to do so in conference play. He made 13 of 21 shots on the trip and averaged 21.5 points per game.

It complemented an impressive showing by senior guard Sedric Barefield, who was 18 of 32 from the field and scored 50 points over the games. Freshman forward Timmy Allen also played well, netting 28 points on 9 of 15 shooting.

As the Utes (7-7, 1-1) prepare for home games this week against Washington and Washington State, Barefield noted the need to keep putting in the work, trust the process and continue trying to reach their potential.

Senior guard Parker Van Dyke, whose potential game-winning shot rolled off the rim in the closing seconds against Arizona, said he feels much better about the team after the road trip.

“I feel like this is a huge confidence boost,” he said.

Van Dyke said that the Utes just played at the two toughest road venues in the Pac-12.

“We’ve just proven that we can play with anyone and beat anyone in the conference,” said Van Dyke, who added that’s he looking forward to when Arizona and Arizona State visit the Huntsman Center next month. “In the future, we’ve got great confidence and hopefully we keep up the focus going into this next week.”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has continually said that the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

“Not many marathons get won in the first mile or the second mile,” he said. “We just have to keep grinding.”

The Utes, he continued, have trained for a long race.

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“We’ve got to just keep getting better,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s the focal point for us.”

Krystkowiak said that road wins are tough to get. Although happy with the split, that wasn’t the intention. He insists the Utes will just keep plugging along.

Van Dyke vows they will, especially after the strong showing in Arizona.

“You want to win. But there are some moral victories to this,” he said. “You want to take this momentum into the future and hopefully we can really make a run in the Pac-12.”