The Utes couldn’t sustain an early double-digit advantage and dropped their fifth straight road game.
“Feel like we have just been in a heavyweight fight,” said Utes’ head coach Larry Krystkowiak on the ESPN 700 postgame show. “We had a heck of a time stopping the basketball. In the zone we had a couple times when we let our guard down. The good news is we got them to miss, but they have an athletic team that pounded the glass. They showed a little desperation and we aren’t a big enough team to keep them off the glass.”
Despite that, Krystkowiak’s club didn’t seem to be intimated by the Wildcats gaudy ranking and came out of the gate firing. A stingy defense got the Utes off to a dream start as they jumped out to a 12-2 lead. After Delon Wright intercepted a ball in the backcourt for a breakaway layup to give Utah the 10-point lead, Arizona coach Sean Miller took a timeout and the Wildcats came out a different team.
Arizona still struggled from the field, but it started controlling the offensive glass. For the game, the Wildcats secured 20 offensive rebounds and used those extra possessions to ignite their offense. They responded to their deficit by going on a 12-0 run to seize a two-point lead midway through the first half.
“We came out and played hard at the beginning,” Utes’ forward Dakarai Tucker said on the postgame show. “We let up on the rebounds. They had 20 offensive rebounds. That was big in this game. We had to box them out, get a body on them, something, but we just let them do what they want.”
Still, Utah stuck around and trailed by just five at halftime, 31-26.
The Utes came out of the break in a triangle, as they wanted to keep the Arizona guards from taking over the game. Krystkowiak felt the change was effective in getting stops, but Utah had a hard time rebounding out of it. The Wildcats stretched their lead to six with just over 12 minutes to go, but the Utes wouldn’t fold.
On Utah’s next possession, freshman Kenneth Ogbe hit a 3-pointer to pull the Utes within three. A few plays later, he banged home another triple to put them up 47-45 with 11 minutes to play.
Then Utah ran out of gas. Over the ensuing eight minutes, Arizona went on a 14-2 run led by Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon to take a 59-49 edge and the Utes couldn’t muster a comeback. By game’s end, Johnson had scored 22 points and Gordon added 10 with 12 rebounds. Perhaps the most telling statistic of the contest is that Arizona finished 19 with second-chance points to Utah’s six.
“We had some ill-advised shots [at the end],” Krystkowiak said. “I don’t need to call any of our guys’ names, but they had the ‘I’m going to be the one who brings this one home’ feeling and suddenly we’re taking bad shots and it gets away from us.”
The Utes will return to the court on Saturday when they face Colorado in Boulder.
“There a lot of positives,” Krystkowiak said. “I really like our team. I like the way we compete. We are doing some really positive things. We need to find ways to improve our basketball team. If we are going to lose close games, this is the time to do it and hopefully things can click in and we gain a little confidence.”