Las Vegas • Utah usually holds a shootaround a few hours before it plays. That’s not going to happen on Friday.
These Utes are tired. They are worn out. Nobody knows if Cedric Martin will be able to suit up, due to an ankle injury. Jarred DuBois and Jordan Loveridge had matching pairs of ice packs on four knees as they walked around MGM Grand Garden Arena following interviews with the media.
Yes, these Utes are exhausted. But Larry Krystkowiak’s team is alive. Resilient. And fast becoming a major national story. A 79-69 Pac-12 Conference quarterfinal win over No. 2 California on Thursday night ranks as one of the biggest upsets so far of Championship Week. Down 59-56, senior guard Jarred DuBois forced the extra session with a rainbow 3-pointer in the final seconds. Armed with new life, the Utes took full advantage, outscoring the Golden Bears 20-10 in overtime and running away with a victory that seemed improbable for long stretches.
Now, unbelievably, Krystkowiak’s second Utah team is a pair of victories away from an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
“Once we got to overtime, we knew we were going to win,” said Loveridge, the freshman forward. “We told ourselves that we’ve come this far. We may as well win it if we’re here.”
A rebuilding program for much of the season, Utah’s suddenly transformed into a confident, skillful bunch. A team with three conference victories in two months now owns a four-game winning streak. And a team that California dominated during the regular season became a thorn in Mike Montgomery’s side at precisely the wrong time for the Bears coach.
“We didn’t do our jobs,” Montgomery conceded. “We had our chances to knock them out, and we didn’t get it done. Once the game went to overtime, their confidence went sky-high. They made a lot of shots, and we couldn’t shut them down when it counted.”
In Wednesday’s first round, Utah led USC for most of the game. That wasn’t the case against the Bears. With length, athleticism, the shooting of Allen Crabbe and a suffocating zone defense, California led 44-36 with 14:03 remaining.
At that point, the Utes looked finished. They looked tired, and shots weren’t falling that went through the bucket against the Trojans. Only a string of possessions that Krystkowiak called “the best we’ve played all season” kept Utah within striking distance.
Then, Loveridge took over. Kept completely off the league’s all-freshman team, the 6-foot-7 power forward from West Jordan saved his best for the final 19 minutes of the game. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Loveridge had scored 20 points, adding eight rebounds and five assists to that total. He dropped in 18 of those points after halftime.
In overtime, his 3-pointer gave the Utes a 64-59 advantage and provided breathing room. He then went to the basket, got fouled, and hit a pair of free throws. Simply put, when the offense wasn’t working, Loveridge took the ball and created offense. His performance mirrored that of DuBois on Wednesday night, who carried Utah when it mattered in similar fashion. He was a matchup nightmare for California all evening, going past the bigger men, and posting up those his size.
“It’s part of the maturation process,” Krystkowiak said. “He has grown and matured through the season. He now has the confidence to make things happen. I think him getting left off the all-freshman team was a coach’s dream. When you have a guy who’s second in the league among freshmen in rebounding and fourth among freshmen in scoring, you have to find room for him. But he plays better with a chip on his shoulder, so I’m fine with that.”
DuBois led Utah with 21 points and five rebounds. Senior center Jason Washburn scored eight of his 18 points in overtime, bouncing back nicely from his disappointing effort against USC. That was enough to offset Justin Cobbs, who scored 26 points for the Bears. Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Storylines Utah 79, Cal 69 (OT)
R Utah wins its fourth consecutive game — its longest streak of the season.
• The Utes score seven of the first nine points in overtime.