Berkeley, Calif. • Finally, Utah took advantage of a big opportunity away from the Huntsman Center. Because of this, the Utes find themselves in good position, heading into the final game of the regular season.
And much of it was because of Brandon Taylor’s brilliance down the stretch.
The sophomore point guard from Los Angeles scored five huge points in the last two minutes, breaking open a tie game that had looked tenuous for the Utes.
As a result, Utah scored its biggest win of the season, defeating California 63-59 before a few thousand stunned onlookers at Haas Pavilion.
Utah once again enjoyed a second half lead on the road. But unlike Colorado, and Arizona and Arizona State, the Utes put this one away with clutch play and big shots.
Now for the milestones achieved by the victory. For the first time in Larry Krystkowiak’s tenure, Utah moves to over .500 in the Pac-12. The Utes have now won 20 games for the first time since 2009 and are 9-8 in the league with the chance to win double-digits in conference play for the first time since moving over from the Mountain West.
It was hardly pretty basketball. Utah’s offense stalled much of the night. But the one constant within Krystkowiak’s program is the way his teams defend consistently — at home or on the road. That characteristic was on display Wednesday night, as the Utes clamped down on the Bears and never let them find a comfort level with the ball.
In a game that was scoring challenged on both sides, it was Utah that found just enough offense, with Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Taylor squeezing home just enough shots for the Utes to survive.
That’s huge for a team that’s had issues on the road all season — winning just one of eight away from the Huntsman Center on the year. Now, Utah has a chance to move up in the Pac-12 standings with a win over Stanford. Now, the Utes have another opportunity to add to their NCAA Tournament resume, and they have a three
This narrative for Utah on Wednesday night truly read like a repetitive novel — until the end: Play fast and loose in the first half. Forge a lead in the second half. Blow that lead when things get tight down the stretch.
Brandon Taylor’s transition lay-up gave the Utes a 48-42 lead with six minutes remaining. Forget about field goals down the stretch. That would be the last point for Utah until the 2:11 mark — when Delon Wright made a pair of free-throws.
By that time, the Bears had put together just enough offense of their own to forge a 50-48 advantage.
The difference? Utah final started to make big plays down the stretch. After Wright’s free-throws, Cal point guard Justin Cobbs walked down the lane and missed an easy lay-in. Taylor then got fouled and made his two shots at the line. After a David Kravish miss, Taylor then made the biggest shot of his career, a three-pointer over Cobbs’ outstretched arms with the shot clock winding down. In all, Utah scored nine consecutive points at just the right time.
The loss is devastating for the Bears, who are square on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Now — allowing a defeat to the Utes — California may find itself on the wrong side of that bubble.
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