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Utah forward Jordan Loveridge (21) battles for a rebound against St. Mary's forward Beau Levesque, left, and guard Kerry Carter, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Utah in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament in Moraga, Calif., Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Utah basketball: Utes save most devastating loss for last
NIT » Meltdown at Saint Mary’s leaves sour taste in otherwise successful season.
First Published Mar 19 2014 10:47 am • Last Updated Mar 19 2014 10:14 pm

The offense looked stale in the second half.

Saint Mary’s sliced through Utah’s defense in the final 20 minutes in Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament opener, making a mockery of a team that had been one of the best in the Pac-12 defensively for most of the season. And when the Gaels made their run, the Utes showed little resistance. Heck, they practically opened the door and begged Saint Mary’s to complete the comeback.

At a glance

Saint Mary’s 70, Utah 58 Late Tuesday

UTAH (21-12)

Onwas 2-5 2-4 6, Taylor 5-8 1-2 14, Loveridge 6-13 2-2 16, Bachynski 0-0 5-6 5, Wright 3-9 4-4 10, Kovacevic 0-1 0-0 0, Lenz 0-1 0-0 0, Tucker 2-4 0-0 5, Ogbe 0-0 2-2 2, Olsen 0-0 0-0 0.

Totals 18-41 16-20 58.

SAINT MARY’S (23-11)

Waldow 1-7 2-2 4, Carter 3-8 2-2 10, Pineau 0-1 0-0 0, Holt 6-10 2-2 15, Walker III 6-8 7-9 21, McCoy 1-1 3-6 5, Petrulis 0-0 0-0 0, Levesque 2-12 2-2 7, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Hodgson 4-4 0-0 8.

Totals 23-52 18-23 70.

Halftime—Utah 30-23. 3-Point Goals—Utah 6-12 (Taylor 3-5, Loveridge 2-3, Tucker 1-3, Wright 0-1), Saint Mary’s (Cal) 6-17 (Walker III 2-3, Carter 2-7, Holt 1-3, Levesque 1-4). Fouled Out—Bachynski, Holt. Rebounds—Utah 30 (Bachynski 9), Saint Mary’s (Cal) 27 (Waldow 8). Assists—Utah 11 (Wright 7), Saint Mary’s (Cal) 9 (McCoy 3). Total Fouls—Utah 24, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 22. A—1,335.

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For all the progress the Utes made under Larry Krystkowiak this season — 21 wins, a Pac-12 tournament victory and an NIT invitation — there is little doubt that it ended on a sour note. First there was the beating suffered at the hands of Arizona in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. Then the not-so-grand finale: a 70-58 loss to Saint Mary’s, a game the Utes controlled throughout.

And this last loss may have been the most alarming.

"Believe me, I’m going to take a close look and try to figure it out," Krystkowiak said. "That’s going to be one of my missions in the offseason. We’re going to evaluate the situation, evaluate some of those films and look back on it and see what the turning points were. From a coaching point of view, I don’t want to make those same mistakes again."

Most concerning is the offense, which took a nosedive in the last month of the season. It started with Delon Wright, who shot 57 percent from the field this season, but finished shooting a combined 12-of-47 in his last five games.

And as teams played him to drive to the basket, there was nobody to pick up the slack. Utah turned the ball over 22 times against the Gaels. The Utes allowed James Walker III and Stephen Holt to get into the lane time and again for baskets in the paint.

As the game got closer, Utah got tighter on both ends. The Utes were outscored 47-28 in the second half, a huge turnaround. The clincher was St. Mary’s monster 25-6 run that included 17 unanswered points. Most of that was without Holt and Brad Waldow — the two best players for the Gaels.

"We couldn’t get stops when it counted," Wright said. "We turned the ball over way too many times and we just couldn’t score. I think we got too comfortable with leads. It’s been a problem all year, and we need to fix it."

Utah finished the season 2-9 away from the Huntsman Center, cementing its legacy as a team that just couldn’t win on the road. The Utes had double digit second-half leads in five of those defeats.

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They lost tjust hree games by 10 or more points, but all three of those came in the last month of the season.

"There was a correlation every time," Krystkowiak said. "Part of it is learning how to win."

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