SALT LAKE CITY — The Utes entered the desert hoping to exact revenge on the Arizona schools this week, but were forced to settle with a series split after Arizona narrowly defeated Utah 74-73 Saturday.
As has been the case for much of the time the Utes have been in the Pac-12, the Utah-Arizona series has been an exciting matchup with only Arizona to come out on top, save one game two seasons ago when Utah claimed its first win at home. Saturday’s battle was no different, despite Utah holding on to a one-point lead late in the game.
Arizona would go on a quick 5-0 run to extend its lead by four points before Utah’s Justin Bibbins drained a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left to play to cut the lead to one. Utah would get the ball back as Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was called for a dead ball foul, giving the Utes one final opportunity with 4 seconds left to play.
But Utah’s Donnie Tillman was out of position on the final play of the game and rushed a shot right under the basket to give Arizona the win.
The following are three takeaways from Utah’s saturday matchup against the Wildcats.
Grit fights top talent
Utah is not a team with four- and five-star players; Arizona is, including the potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. It’s easy to make the David vs. Goliath comparisons between the two programs. But Utah didn’t allow the talent difference to overwhelm them.
Arizona had the hot hand all night, shooting 70 percent from the field late into the game, including a blistering 78 percent from behind the arc going into halftime. Meanwhile, Utah was shooting sub-40 percent going into the half. Utah would only improve to 44 percent after shooting 50 percent in the second half.
Despite the massive discrepancy in shooting percentages, Utah was scrappy and kept the score close. But every time Utah would cut Arizona’s lead to six points, Arizona would go on a quick run to exercise their dominance and hot-handed shooting. At one point in the second half, Arizona led by 13 points and looked in control of another Wildcats victory.
But Utah went on a 14-2 run to take its first lead of the game and challenge the Wildcats. Utah may not have the top names, but their grit and determination have kept them in several games this year. If they can continue to play as a team and not get down early, there is no opponent in the Pac-12 that can overwhelm them. Clearly Utah has lost in the Pac-12, but it’s been when Utah fails to play as a team.
Sedrick Barefield is officially out of a shooting slump
Barefield did not start the game in either the Arizona State or Arizona game this week. But in back-to-back performances, Barefield has had the hot hand and has led the team in scoring despite a recent shooting slump.
Against Arizona State, Barefield paced Utah to an 80-77 win over No. 21 Arizona State with 17 points through overtime. Against Arizona Saturday, Barefield took another step forward and led all scores with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 2-of-4 from behind the 3-point line. He added three assists and two rebounds in the loss.
Barefield has shown flashes of brilliance all season but has had moments where he’s looked outmatched and turnover prone. Lately, the outmatched Barefield has been present and has offered little to the starting lineup. But this week, Barefield has looked more comfortable and has been an integral part of Utah’s success, despite splitting the Arizona series. Utah needs Barefield to step up and shine, showing more of what he’s shown this week.
We’re starting to see glimpses of what Barefield can do. And with Bibbins graduating at the end of the season, Utah will need a confident and experienced guard to step up and lead the team.
Krystkowiak lineups were on point
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak has had to change his starting lineup several times this season, offering little consistency in way of players starting. And although Parker Van Dyke and Gabe Bealer, who were included in the starting unit, have offered little, the move to Barefield on the bench has given him a chance to shine and go with the second unit guys to lead the charge.
The Barefield shift in the lineup has been the most drastic and important recently, but the continual lineup changes this week have been great on Krystkowiak’s part. On Thursday, Jayce Johnson stepped up and was a major contributor for much of the game and helped lift Utah to a win.
While Utah hasn’t had the flashy names this year, Krystkowiak has balanced a lineup well and has tried to get the guys that are doing good things at the right time and limiting minutes for those that are struggling. For instance, for a time Kolbe Caldwell was in the starting unit and getting significant minutes, but has since seen few minutes. This is a prime example of Krystkowiak balancing his players well and picking the right guys to be on the floor at the right time.