SALT LAKE CITY — Utah didn’t do a lot of trailing in its sweep of USC and UCLA.
The Utes, in fact, only played from behind for a grand total of two minutes and 41 seconds over the two games. They built big leads against both the Trojans (16 points) and Bruins (27 points).
It’s an obvious pattern Utah hopes to carry into this week’s Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Utes (17-13, 11-7) used it to secure the No. 3 seed. They’ll face either Oregon (19-12, 10-8) or Washington State (11-20, 4-14) in the quarterfinals on Thursday (9:30 p.m., ESPN).
Finishing third — when picked eighth in the conference’s preseason poll — showed a coming of age for a squad that started three true freshmen (Timmy Allen, Riley Battin and Both Gach) for much of the season.
There were ups and downs, as well as points in between.
Now that it’s tournament time, senior guard Sedrick Barefield noted that “there’s no more lessons to be learned.”
The battle for a first-round bye isn’t lost on the Utes.
“If we go in there and lay an egg the first game it means nothing,” Barefield said. “I think we’ve learned that we can’t start a game slow, any game. If we just continue to approach every game like it’s, you know, do or die, then we have success.”
The key, he continued, is to just come out strong.
Such was the case on Senior Night when Utah jumped out to a 51-24 advantage in the first half. The Utes hit 11 3-pointers before the break and tied a school-record 17 by game’s end.
Barefield scored a game-high 29 points in Utah’s 92-81 win. Allen added 17, while Donnie Tillman and Parker Van Dyke contributed 14 and 12, respectively.
Other solid outings included seldom-used junior Brandon Morley, who finished with nine rebounds and eight points in 17 minutes off the bench.
Graduate transfer Novak Topalovic started at center in place of the injured Jayce Johnson (ankle) and grabbed five rebounds. The Utes used 10 players in the home finale.
“When you get into Vegas, as you are aware, you can't win multiple games without those guys stepping up,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “So it is kind of a testament to those guys for sticking to it and when their opportunity came, they made the most of it.”
As for the team as a whole, Krystkowiak said that you just kind of grind it out for the marathon of a Pac-12 season. After 18 games, tournament seeding is set and there are no more hypotheticals.
“Now you can say here we are,” Krystkowiak said.
Utah lost a 78-72 decision to Oregon in the only meeting between the teams this season, Jan. 31 in the Huntsman Center. The Utes swept Washington State. They prevailed 88-70 in Salt Lake City on Jan. 12 and 92-79 in Pullman on Feb. 23.
2019 Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament
T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
All times Mountain
No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Arizona, 1 p.m. (P12N)12 comments on this story
No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 California, 3:30 p.m. (P12N)
No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Stanford, 7 p.m. (P12N)
No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (P12N)
No. 1 Washington vs. USC or Arizona, 1 p.m. (P12N)
No. 4 Oregon State vs. Colorado or Cal, 3:30 p.m. (P12N)
No. 2 Arizona State vs. UCLA or Stanford, 7 p.m. (P12N)
No. 3 UTAH vs. Oregon or Washington St., 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Semifinal, 7 p.m. (P12N)
Semifinal, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Championship, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)