Men’s hoops: Runnin’ Utes give up late lead, fall to No. 7 Arizona

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

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After weeks of anticipation, nights of students camping and endless hours of preparation, the rematch between No. 13 Utah and No. 7 Arizona had all the makings to be a historic Pac-12 game, but then it wasn’t.

The officials marred the contest between two physical teams, calling 46 fouls and leaving many in attendance and on the court frustrated. The Wildcats were able to prevail by scoring seven straight points in the closing minutes to escape Salt Lake City with a 63-57 win over the Utes (22-6, 12-4 Pac-12).

WAS LOSS DUE TO THE REFEREES?

“I don’t think we have fouled that much all year,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. “That’s what made it difficult. It had to be a record for us. It’s hard to find your rhythm in a game like that.”

With the game dipping under two minutes, Utah guard Brandon Taylor pulled up and hit a huge three pointer to give the Utes a 57-55 lead, but it didn’t last long.

On the next Arizona possession Gabe York was sent to the line with the chance to tie the game up. After making the first free throw with 1:39 to go to pull Arizona within one, York missed his second, but he was able to get his own rebound and an easy lay up when Utah neglected to box him out, to give the Wildcats the lead for good.

“I can’t say how disappointing it was,” Utah senior Dallin Bachynski said. “It will take time to truly hit me. We were up and it hurts to know we let it slip through our fingers.”

The Runnin’ Utes were led by Delon Wright, who registered 17 points, including a 10-for-12 effort from the charity stripe. Additionally, Wright recorded five rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Points did not come easy, as Utah shot just 30.9 percent from the field, more than a few hairs below its season average of 49.5 percent.

“Baskets were hard to come by and it was a little sluggish,” Krystkowiak said.

The first five minutes of play were extremely physical, as both teams knew a conference title was at stake. With the Huntsman Center crowd pulling out all the stops to distract the Wildcats, the noise was deafening as the two teams played to an 8-8 tie after Bachynski took the dish from Wright and laid it in for two.

Arizona responded by going on a 9-0 run, capped by a pair of free throws from Kaleb Tarczewski to push the score to 17-8 with 8:46 to go in the first half.

But the Utes found themselves right back in the game courtesy of freshman Brekkott Chapman, who hit two consecutive three-pointers to bring Utah within two points and revive the Ute faithful.

Riding that momentum, the Utes kept it close and by the time the horn sounded for halftime Utah was down just a single point, 29-28.

After calling 25 fouls in the first half, the whistle-happy refs did not disappoint in disrupting the flow of the game as they called 21 more in the second. There were a number of times throughout this game where play was stopped as officials would take their time reviewing a play.

Despite the refs’ efforts, nothing was going to keep this game from being the slugfest that many expected. Play went back-and-forth between the two teams and on Senior Night Bachynski made the most of his final game in the Huntsman Center.

With Jakob Poeltl sitting on the bench in foul trouble, Bachynski was forced to play more minutes, and thanks to his his tireless efforts on the defensive end and even knocking down a jumper or two, Krystkowiak began to put his trust in the senior.

“He did a lot of what you like him to do on Senior Night,” Krystkowiak said. “We just didn’t get enough effort from enough other guys to make this a ‘W’.”

To the dismay of both Krystkowiak and Arizona head coach Sean Miller, the refs seemed determined to be the deciding factor in this game. The Utes sat in foul trouble with a number of its players and by the end of the game, both Poeltl and Chapman fouled out, while Jordan Loveridge finished with four.

This forced Krystkowiak to use a smaller lineup for most of the second half, and it showed. After holding the slight 20-18 rebound edge at halftime, the Utes were outrebounded by nine boards in the second half. To make matters worse, 11 of the Arizona’s 25 second-half rebounds were offensive.

In the end, Utah’s game plan was interrupted by the referees and the Wildcats, and the players could not recover. After two failed Utah attempts to close the gap in the final 30 seconds, it was York who put the game away with two garbage free throws to push Arizona’s total up to 63.

“Gabe made a number of big plays,” Miller said. “He is playing the best basketball of his career right now.”

Leading the way for the Wildcats was Tarczewski, who had 13 points and six boards, and Stanley Johnson, who registered a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, despite shooting just 3-for-19 from the field.

The Utes will attempt to regroup before hitting the road to take on Washington State on Thursday.

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@GriffDoug