Men’s Basketball: Utah’s Comeback Slips Away, Downed by No. 14 Arizona, 94-82

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Men’s Basketball: Utah’s Comeback Slips Away, Downed by No. 14 Arizona, 94-82

University of Utah senior guard Justin Bibbins (1) drives towards the basket during an NCAA Basketball game vs. The University of Arizona Wildcats at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

University of Utah senior guard Justin Bibbins (1) drives towards the basket during an NCAA Basketball game vs. The University of Arizona Wildcats at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

University of Utah senior guard Justin Bibbins (1) drives towards the basket during an NCAA Basketball game vs. The University of Arizona Wildcats at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

University of Utah senior guard Justin Bibbins (1) drives towards the basket during an NCAA Basketball game vs. The University of Arizona Wildcats at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brittni Meservy

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After trailing by as much as 17 points in its Pac-12 home opener on Thursday night, the University of Utah men’s basketball team (10-4 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) fought back to tie the game three times in the second half before falling to No. 14 Arizona (12-3 overall, 2-0), 94-82. Both teams entered the contest with momentum as the Wildcats were riding an eight-game winning streak and the Runnin’ Utes had clinched victories over Oregon and Oregon State on the road. But it was Arizona’s size and Utah’s lack of rebounding and its struggle to transition quick enough that cost the team the game.

“The guys battled. We just need a couple bigger dudes, a little more muscle to compete with that team,” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We knew it was going to be a challenge for us and they got us. They beat us at their strength.”

Utah had a quiet first half as the team shot 36.7 percent from the field. Arizona, which shot 51.5 percent from the field in the first half, was responsible for the first six points of the game before Tyler Rawson drilled one from deep to put the Utes on the board. A dunk by Arizona’s Deandre Ayton at the 7:37 mark gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night, but Utah continued to fight. The Runnin’ Utes came within eight points in the first half, but Arizona struck back to take a double-digit lead, 46-32.

Sedrick Barefield mustered three points in the first half before erupting for 20 points in the second half. He led Utah in points after shooting 6-for-12 from the field, 5-for-8 from behind the arc and 3-for-3 at the stripe. He credits his teammates for finding him on the floor and the extra time he spent in the gym this week as the reasons why he was able to have the success he did.

“I work on my shot everyday so it’s frustrating the way I’ve been shooting, but I keep putting work in and hopefully it starts to fall,” Barefield said.

With help from Barefield, the Utes made made a run for it in the second half with a don’t give up mentality.

“We always believe. We were down 13 at Oregon and we still won,” Barefield said. “Obviously we don’t want to start like that, but we know what we’re capable of and we know we’re capable of winning any game we come into.”

David Collette tied the game 70 off a layup with 6:07 remaining in the game, but the Wildcats countered with a bucket of their own like they would do the next two times Utah tied the game. With the ball back in Utah’s possession, Donnie Tillman had a layup to tie things at 72 a piece before Ayton pulled Arizona ahead by two points. Collette again tied the game at 77-77, but Ayton followed with a jumper that Utah couldn’t recover from.

Ayton was the leading scorer from both teams with 24 points, and although Utah tried to double-team him, it was a challenge throughout the night.

“It’s hard to double on top down passes, that’s where we got exposed a little bit,” Krystkowiak said. “On a top down pass when the ball goes in there’s really nobody who can come and double team. It’s too late at that point. We were playing in front of him, which we shouldn’t have been on a top down pass and they just threw it up over our head and there’s no answer to that.”

Utah will be back in action at the Huntsman Center on Sunday, Jan. 7 as it welcomes in No. 4 Arizona State at 6 p.m.

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