The Runnin' Utes hung with Arizona once again Sunday at the Jon M. Huntsman Center for most of the game, but ultimately lost by a score of 68-64. With the loss, Utah drops to 11-13, 3-9, while Arizona hit the all-important, coveted 20-win mark. Arizona improved to 20-4, 8-4 with the too-close-for-comfort win.
The Wildcats came out hot early on and built a 12 point lead at one point in the first half. At the 6:04 point in the first half, Arizona was shooting 64 percent before going cold, but still managed to shoot 50 percent to end the first 20 minutes of play.
In contrast to the first meeting, Arizona came out ready to play Sunday, and challenged the Utes from the tip with aggressive, physical defense.
"We were taken out of rhythm by a really good defensive team," Krystkowiak discussed his team's first half struggles. "They were physical with us, and made it tough to move the ball and get some open looks."
While Arizona finished the first half shooting 11-22 (50%), Utah shot 10-27 (37%).
In addition to what Arizona did, Utah also created many of its own problems. Second chance points by Arizona, combined with nine Utah turnovers in the first half contributed to Arizona's lead, and early foul trouble by Utah starter Jordan Loveridge also altered Utah's game plan.
"We had to go with two bigs [after Loveridge went out with foul trouble], which certainly hurts our [game plan] a little bit," Krystkowiak said. "He went out down six, and came back down eight, so it didn't hurt us that much. In terms of points, it didn't kill us."
Jeremy Olsen did well in place of Loveridge, scoring 12 points and pulling down six rebounds. Loveridge averages 11.7 ppg and 6.6 rebounds per game, so the production level didn't go down in his absence.
Already down eight coming into the second half, however, the Utes came out slow and scored just one bucket in the first four minutes of play, which allowed Arizona to go on an 8-3 run to pull ahead by as much as 13 points late in the second.
Both teams stagnated mid-way through the half before Utah went on a 16-5 run to tie the game at 51 with 7:28 remaining.
The run was sparked by freshman Dakari Tucker, whose defense created problems for Arizona on key plays. Offensively, Tucker knocked down to key three-pointers during the run providing his team a huge lift at a crucial stretch of the game.
"When I came out, I just wanted to push the ball and keep playing hard. When it comes down to crunch time, you have to get your stuff together, because you don't want to be the one to mess up," Tucker described his mind-set during the Utes' comeback.
Tucker has seen very little game time of late, averaging 8.8 minutes per game this season. His average is buoyed by heavier minutes early in the season, and has played just 36 minutes over the past five games, and did not play at all against Arizona State Wednesday night.
"I was a little bit surprised, but I just know that I have to be ready at all times," Tucker said of his 12 minutes against Arizona. "I have to just be ready to do what I have to do to help the team."
Krystkowiak provided more insight to the decision to go with Tucker Sunday.
"His length and his ability to guard out there were the two reasons. It's been a situation where we're trying to figure out between Justin [Seymour] and Dakari [Tucker] who that wing is going to be coming off the bench," Krystkowiak revealed. "[Tucker] has been practicing his rear end off, so good things happen for him. He was really active and his length helped us against this team."
Senior Jason Washburn also contributed a solid game, with 15 points and seven rebounds, but ultimately fell short against a previously ranked Arizona team.
"When you're in close games, guys have to step up and makes shots, just like we did last game. We just couldn't do that this game," offered Washburn. "We didn't step up and make shots when we needed to and we didn't get stops when we needed to get them. [It's a] simple game."
The game left the Utes with a bittersweet feeling, even if the end formula was weighted with more bitter than sweet.
"I'm proud of our guys. [The game] leaves me feeling like I want to watch the film and figure out-we had some mindless turnovers and things," said Krystkowiak. "But I was encouraged that we came back and were a couple of plays away from making it happen."
Despite the Utah comeback, the Utes are taking no solace in yet another close loss.
"We're moving beyond the, what's the term? The consolation prize, the moral victory," said Krystkowiak. "That kind of stuff drives me crazy."
Utah hits the road for three straight games, looking down the barrel at road games at Colorado, Stanford and Cal before returning home to host Oregon and Oregon State to close out its regular season.