“I tell you what, Jon Huntsman [Sr.] is up there pulling some strings for the old Utes,” said Utah men’s basketball head coach Larry Krystkowiak following a 84-78 home win over UCLA in which Parker Van Dyke hit two crucial 3-pointers in the game’s final moments.
Van Dyke, who finished with a career-high 18 points, made the first of those 3’s with just over two minutes left in the game when the Utes were clinging to a one-point lead. Then with 41 seconds left, he nailed another to put the Utes up by six. Both shots came as the shot clock was winding down.
“A lot of times in the gym you count in your head, ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1,’ and you shoot it up,” Van Dyke said after the game. “You have to be prepared because you never know when your number is going to be called. I got the ball with three or four seconds on the shot clock and you have to make a play. When you make a shot like that, it makes all the hard work worth it.”
“I don’t know what it was, divine intervention from Jon or Parker being a diligent hard working kid,” Krystkowiak said.
The Bruins refused to go down as they also connected on three 3-pointers in the final minute and a half, forcing Utah to seal the game with free throws. Luckily for Utah, the team converted 88.2 percent of its free throws on the night, its highest mark of the season.
“It’s not something we’re going to talk about a whole lot, but for us to be able to go 15-for-17 from the free throw line in a game of that magnitude down the stretch … it turned out to be just what we needed,” Krystkowiak said.
Entering Thursday night’s contest between the Utes and the Bruins, both teams were categorized as bubble teams for the NCAA tournament by ESPN’s Bracketology website.
“It was a must-win for us if we wanted to get in [the tournament],” said senior David Collette, who finished with a team-high 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting.
Early on in the game, Collette was the focal point of the Utah offense. At one point in the first half he had 14 of Utah’s 24 points. Utah was so reliant on him that when he went to the bench with 6:51 remaining in the first half, it wasn’t immediately clear where Utah’s offense would come from. At that point, only three other Utes put points on the board.
The Utes did find some offense though. After Collette went to the bench, Utah was able to score on its next six consecutive possessions, and four of those makes were 3-pointers.
A run like that would have been enough to take a double-digit lead on a lesser opponent, but UCLA went on a run of its own to keep the score close. The Bruins hit four 3-pointers in the span of two and a half minutes to keep pace with the Utes.
Despite shooting 64.3 percent from the field in the first half, Utah only led seven points going into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Utes went on a 7-0 run to take a 54-40 lead over the Bruins. After Utah only scored eight points in the following 10 minutes, UCLA tightened the game back up by cutting the lead to one point late in the game before Van Dyke took over.
The Utes now turn their attention to USC as the Trojans will be coming to the Huntsman Center on Saturday for a 12:30 game with huge implications for both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.