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SALT LAKE CITY — Through 20 minutes of Saturday’s game between the Utah Utes and the sixth-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack, Sedrick Barefield was an offense unto himself. He flowed like water, glided past every Nevada defender, drew fouls, splashed threes and finished in traffic. He was, in a word, unstoppable.
By halftime, Barefield had 19 points on 5-of-5 shooting and 6-of-7 free throws, and the Utes trailed 38-37, an upset bid seemingly in reach. But then things took a turn for the worse — both for him and the Utes.
It’s not that Barefield was bad after the intermission. No, in truth, he was quite good, (14 points, one steal in the second half). It’s just that Nevada, led by Caleb Martin’s 25 second-half points, was better.
The result? Utah fell 86-71 to Nevada in its final nonconference game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, and in the process, to 6-6 on the season, with Barefield’s big game — 33 points, two shy of his career-high — going to waste.
“You know, ultimately, you want the win more than anything,” Barefield said after the game when asked about his performance. “That’s what matters the most.”
Still, considering the competition, Saturday was a special performance from Barefield, whose shot had previously abandoned him earlier in the season in games against Kentucky and Hawaii.
On this chilly Saturday afternoon, the 12th game of the season, the points came early and often for him. In the first half, the senior was in complete control after checking in at the 16:02 mark, as he buried three triples — several from deep space and off the bounce — and attacked Nevada’s leaky interior defense to no end. He pushed the ball, and created something out of nothing on multiple occasions.
But perhaps most importantly, though: Barefield converted his energy to defensive end as well, helping limit Nevada’s fourth-ranked offense (per KenPom.com) to just 37.5 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes.
From the cheap seats, it was tempting to suggest Barefield's exploits may have lifted Utah to its best of half of basketball this season. But Barefield, ever the critic, offered a contrasting perspective.
“Other than some tough shots we hit, we weren’t getting a lot going,” he said of the first half. “I think we could have did some things a little better.”
Among them: limiting turnovers. In the second half, the Utes opened with three straight, and in a matter of moments, found themselves trailing by double-digits, from which they would never recover. At one point, Barefield buried a deep three to bring the Utes within 53-49, and the crowd roared with approval. But on the ensuing play, Jazz Johnson responded with a three of his own, and then, moments later, Caleb Martin hit a fallaway jumper and the Utes trailed by nine.
On this, the slow start to the second half, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said the Utes played "complacent" after the team failed to go through its normal layup routine —"We usually do layups and get our bodies moving" — and that the turnovers played a key role in his team's quick deficit.
“We fueled their fire with turnovers,” he said. “We gotta do a better job of taking care of the ball; those turnovers are super costly.”
“Those turnovers hurt us,” he said.
With the preseason in the books, the Utes’ record (6-6), reflective of their maddening inconsistency, has left open questions about how they’ll fare in conference play, and cast doubt on the possibility of snapping their current two-year shutout from the NCAA Tournament. But with performances like Saturday’s on the ledger, Barefield said he is confident their best days are ahead of them.
“I just think about teams like UConn when they had Kemba Walker, they had a terrible preseason. But they obviously had talent. They went into conference play; played great in conference; won the conference tournament. They end up winning the National Championship,” he said. “So, I still believe in our guys. I still believe that we can have a successful season. We just have to stay positive and keep working hard every single day.
“We’re playing well together; sharing the ball; playing hard. We’re confident that we can pull some W’s out.”
Follow Dillon on Twitter @dillondanderson.