NCAA Tournament: Taylor leads Utah past Hoyas, on to Sweet 16

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As the saying goes, it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog. Utah guard Brandon Taylor has been defying odds all season long and while Saturday night against Georgetown in the Round of 32 wasn’t his best game of the season, it was his most important.

Taylor measures in at just 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, just half the size of Georgetown’s 350-pound center Josh Smith, but the point guard played beyond his size in this one.

After struggling to contain the Hoyas in the first half, the Runnin’ Utes rode a hot streak from Taylor, who connected on 4-of-8 three-point attempts, on his way to 14 points to narrowly escape a tough Hoya squad 75-64 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Houston next weekend.

“It’s surreal. It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before,” Taylor said after the win. “I’m just super proud and I’m happy for our team. You know, we worked so hard in the summertime. We’ve worked so hard. To be rewarded like how we are right now, going on to the Sweet 16, it’s just amazing.”

In addition to his points, Taylor also recorded five assists and three rebounds.

Helping Taylor was Delon Wright, who got 12 points, while freshman Jakob Poeltl finished with 12 of his own in just 18 minutes of play. Overall, the Runnin’ Utes had a total of five players in double digits, all while dishing the ball 12 times to one another.

The win sends the Utes to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2005, where they will play the winner of Duke and San Diego State which is scheduled for tomorrow.

“Both of those teams are tremendous,” Krystkowiak said of who he would rather play in Houston. “Honored to play either one.”

Right from the tip, it was all Georgetown early. Just minutes into the slate, three separate Georgetown players converted from deep, as the Hoyas moved the ball well to jump out to a quick 12-6 lead.

The misfortunes continued for the Runnin’ Utes, as Georgetown was relentless from behind the arc, increasing its lead to 21-10 less than seven minutes into the game, prompting Krystkowiak to call a timeout. At this point, the Hoyas were 5-of-7 from deep, while the Utes were just 4-for-7 from the field overall.

Early on, it looked like Poeltl was the only who came to play for Utah, using some post moves and running the floor well to keep his team in the game, but then the rest of the Utes decided to join in on the fun. Thanks to an 11-0 run, capped by an impressive pull-up jumper from behind the arc from Brandon Taylor, Utah found itself right back in the game, and even took the lead with 8:49 to go 24-23.

But when the buzzer sounded for the half and after a desperation heave from Taylor didn’t fall, the Utes found themselves heading into the locker room all tied up with the Hoyas at 32 apiece. The Runnin’ Utes amped of their defense from the start of the game, as Georgetown missed its final eight shots of the half.

Just like the Hoyas did to start the game, it was the Utes who came out on fire from behind the arc to start the second half. After finding Jordan Loveridge for a wide-open three on the wing, Taylor pulled up on consecutive possessions to give Utah its biggest lead of the game at 43-36 with 17:10 to go.

“With this team, we take pride in taking good shots,” Taylor said. “When we take good shots, they tend to fall in. Sometimes they don’t. You know, but our motto is really the next play, moving on to the next play. If shots aren’t falling, we have to lock down defensively and we know that the rim will open up sooner or later.”

But Georgetown didn’t want to be sent home, not yet. Thanks to a three-pointer with the shot-clock winding down from Isaac Copeland and an and-one from L.J. Peak, the Hoyas clawed their way right back into the game.

After registering his third foul of the game, Poeltl found his way to the bench while Dallin Bachynski took his place, where the senior made the most of his minutes. In addition to using his bigger frame against Smith, Bachynski found ways to contribute on the offensive end, including a baseline drive that found the bottom of the net, all while getting fouled.

“It doesn’t really matter who is out there playing,” Poeltl said. “If I’m in foul trouble, I know that Dallin or Jeremy is going to come in and step up for us. That’s just great to know, having in the back of your mind.”

In the end, Bachynski, Taylor and the rest of the Utes proved to be too much for the Hoyas, and Utah has no problems heading to Houston.

g.adams@chronicle.utah.edu

@GriffDoug

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