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Utah's Jeremy Olsen dives for a loose ball against Washington in the first half of an NCAA Pac 12 conference tournament college basketball game, Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Utah basketball: Dakari Tucker’s big 3 leads Utes past Huskies

Tucker’s late trey lifts Utes into quarters to face 1-seed Arizona.

First Published Mar 12 2014 12:33 pm • Last Updated Mar 12 2014 11:19 pm

Las Vegas • Dakarai Tucker left his collection of white T-shirts in Utah. So when the Utes took the floor against Washington on Wednesday in the Pac-12 Tournament, Tucker was sleeveless for the first time this season.

Two hours later — with Utah’s season on the line — it was clear that Tucker can still shoot the basketball even without sleeves.

Tony Jones:

At a glance

Storylines

O Dakarai Tucker makes the winning shot with 35 seconds remaining.

Utah closes the game on an 8-1 run.

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His 3-pointer with 35.3 seconds remaining lifted the Utes to a 67-61 victory over the Huskies at MGM Grand Arena. The victory advances the eighth-seeded Utes to Thursday’s quarterfinal against top seed Arizona.

In three years of Pac-12 membership, the Wildcats are the only team the Utes haven’t beaten, though they played them tough in both regular season meetings — taking Arizona to overtime at the Huntsman Center before falling.

Tucker credited the Ute coaching staff for help in making his big shot.

"Coaches have been telling me to get more arc on my jumper," he said. "I’ve been trying to concentrate on my form more, and I’ve just been trying to stay ready. I’m just glad we won the game."

Tucker’s three was the culmination of what was probably the best closing five minutes Utah has played this season. In a year in which the Utes have struggled mightily down the stretch, all the pieces came together Wednesday afternoon.

The Utes closed by scoring eight of the game’s final nine points. They followed Tucker’s 3-pointer with a big defensive stand, which led to Brandon Taylor making two free throws. They didn’t turn the ball over as the clock ticked down and they forced Washington into hurried shots when it had the ball.

Result? Utah won its 21st game of the season and kept its NCAA Tournament hopes — however razor thin — alive for another day. To stay in the conversation, the Utes certainly have to beat Arizona. At the moment, though, Utah is simply happy to still be alive.

"I thought it was a tale of two halves a little bit," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "We had a lot of energy in that first half, we played well on both ends, but it wasn’t so much that way in the second half. We didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and we didn’t defend well. We knew Washington was tough and we knew they could cause problems for us."


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Utah led 34-24 at halftime, dominating on both ends of the floor and on multiple occasions threatening to turn things into a rout.

But the first 10 minutes of the second half went about as poorly as possible for the Utes. Washington outscored the Utes 17-5 to open the final period, getting stops and getting into transition.

"I’m proud of our guys for battling back in the second half," said Washington coach Lorezo Romar. "I thought our guys played hard, played tough."

The Huskies actually took the lead on three separate occasions, which certainly made things tense for Utah.

"Then we called a timeout and guys came out and made some plays for us," Krystkowiak said. "I thought that was big. We made some defensive stands and we got rolling a little bit."

Getting to the free-throw line in the last 10 minutes proved to be huge for the Utes. Junior guard Delon Wright attacked the basket and took over for stretches. He ended up with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Wright was helped by sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge, who scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He scored nine of those after halftime and made the pass to Tucker that produced the biggest shot of Utah’s season.

"Once a shooter, always a shooter," Utah guard Brandon Taylor said. "Dakarai’s the kind of guy who’s always ready. He knew his chance would come, and when it did he made it count."

Said Romar: "Utah is a difficult team to play against. We knew that coming in and we have a lot of respect for what they were able to do. We wish them luck the rest of the way."

tjones@sltrib.com



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