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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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NCAA Tournament: Utes comeback falls short, season ends in Houston



It just wasn’t supposed to end this way.

The vibe around the Runnin’ Utes locker room and Salt Lake City leading up to Utah’s Sweet Sixteen matchup with Duke was positive. Many, including multiple Utes who claimed they “weren’t done yet” after their Round of 32 victory over Georgetown, thought that Utah had the chance to upset the top seed in the South region, and with good reason.


The Utes were riding high after winning their first two tournament games, but came into NRG Stadium in Houston looking flat. Utah started the game 1-for-11 shooting from the field, and it was never able to recover, as the Blue Devils held off the pesky Utes in the closing minutes to get the 63-57 victory and advance to the Elite Eight on Sunday

“There’s been very few first halves that were as poor as we were offensively,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We were really good defensively and spent — maybe shame on me for the last four days. We spent about 90 percent of our time on our defense and hung our hat on our defense and really proud of the effort that we put forth.”

Leading the way for the Utes was Brandon Taylor, who after a rough start finally found his shot towards the end of the game to help Utah back in the game, scoring 15 points. Helping Taylor was Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright, who each scored 10 points apiece.

“It was tough. Feel like we could have won that game,” Wright said. “You know, just one of those games that we weren’t clicking as a team, but, you know, it happens and we have to move on.

With all of the hype leading up to this game, it started off as a borefest. Thanks to dismal shooting and sloppy play from both sides, there were only five points scored between the two squads in the first five minutes of play.

Despite Poeltl playing well in the first five minutes, Krystkowiak opted to switch big men by subbing in Dallin Bachynski for the Austrian to see if the Utes could get anything going. And he didn’t disappoint, as the senior showed he wanted to make the most of his first and final Sweet Sixteen experience.

After dunking it on the fast break courtesy of a Ute steal, Bachynski followed that up by driving to the paint and getting fouled to somewhat kickstart this Utah offense by putting some points on the board from the charity stripe.

But after Delon Wright received his controversial third foul of the first half and was forced to sit on the bench, it was looking real dangerous for the Utes, staring at a 25-17 deficit with 3:27 to go in the first half.

With nothing falling for Utah, Bachynski decided to take matters into his own hands again. After drawing a foul on Okafor the previous possession, the backup center went right back at the future top-three NBA pick, getting the shot to go as Okafor picked up his second foul of the game. After Okafor went to the bench, Bachynski knocked down from the charity stripe to make it a 27-20 game.

Despite his impressive efforts to nearly singlehandedly keep Utah in this game in the first half, Bachynski wishes he could have done more in his final game as a Ute.

“For me, I just wish I could have left a little more out there,” he said. “I tried playing hard and I wish I could have done a little more. I think we all have some regrets from the game and we would like a redo, really, but, you know, I’m not thinking about the game right now. I’m thinking about the whole experience that I had with all of my teammates and all my friends and my family that I’ll miss.”

The only points the rest of the half would be two more points from Bachynski from the line, pushing his total to 11 to lead the Utes in scoring in the first half. But Utah still went into the locker rooms with a 27-22 deficit and a lot of questions to be answered.

“Still to be down 5 at half, it really felt like we were down 20,” Krystkowiak said. “There was a little bit of hope if we dialed in, took better care of the basketball.”

That answer came in the form of freshman Brekkott Chapman, who came in the game in the second half and immediately took a pass from Wright and pulled up for a quick two. Shortly after, Chapman got the ball on the baseline and floated it over two Duke defenders, and then followed that up with a breakaway dunk after a Blue Devil miss.

Despite the loss, the freshman is grateful for the opportunity to play in this game with his team, especially in his first season for Utah.

“It’s been such a fun and amazing ride, just to be able to hang out with all these guys – great guys, great coaches – it’s a family here,” Chapman said. “It’s so much fun for me and I’m so lucky to be in this environment.”

But even after Chapman helped off of the bench, the Utes still struggled to close the lead, and they can blame Winslow for that, who seemingly couldn’t miss on Friday night. Hailing from Houston, Winslow was playing in an essential home game, and he basked in the bright lights as the forward hit deep balls on consecutive possessions to make it 41-34 in Duke’s favor with 11:18 to go in the game.

With the lead growing as large as 15 after two free throws from Quinn Cook, it seemed all but over for Utah, except no one told the Utes.

Thanks to Taylor finally finding his shot and the never-ending relentless attitude that Krystkowiak instilled in his players this season, Utah clawed its way back into this game and had a fighter’s chance in the closing minutes.

“I know that all our guys aren’t quitters, not a single one of us would stop fighting by the end of the game,” Bachynski said.

After a Wright layup cut the lead to just five points with 14 seconds remaining, the Utes trapped Cook in the corner, who couldn’t maintain his balance and was called for the travel, giving Utah the ball, and a sliver of hope.

However, after struggling to inbound the ball and find an open shot, a Jordan Loveridge pull-up three-point attempt clanked off the iron, ruining the chance of completing the improbable comeback.

The Utes finish their season in Houston with a 26-9 record and a Sweet Sixteen berth, something they haven’t been able to do since 2005. As far as the next step for Krystkowiak and company, the head coach needs a little bit of time before going back to the drawing board.

“Well, heck if I know,” Krystkowiak said of what’s next for his program. “I’m in decompress mode at this point. Just enjoy this experience with these kids and going to soak that up for a little while and reflect … I’m just thinking about getting back to Salt Lake. That’s where I’m going from here and put it all in perspective.”

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