Utah basketball: Utes save most devastating loss for last
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.
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.
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."
Saint Mary's 70, Utah 58 Late Tuesday
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.
HalftimeUtah 30-23. 3-Point GoalsUtah 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 OutBachynski, Holt. ReboundsUtah 30 (Bachynski 9), Saint Mary's (Cal) 27 (Waldow 8). AssistsUtah 11 (Wright 7), Saint Mary's (Cal) 9 (McCoy 3). Total FoulsUtah 24, Saint Mary's (Cal) 22. A1,335.