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Utah basketball: Utes end season on ugly note in NIT loss to Boise State

First Published      Last Updated Mar 15 2017 08:40 am


Boise State 73, Utah 68 » Frustrating season comes to a frustrating end.

It wasn't win or go home — it was win or stay home.

Utah basketball is going to stay home for the rest of March.

The season finale, a 73-68 loss to Boise State at the Huntsman Center in the first round of the NIT, didn't offer much evidence that Utah (20-12) deserved or wanted more than that. What was an 11-point lead dissolved in a dismal second half on Tuesday evening, fueled by eight second-half turnovers and a late 16-1 rally by the visiting Broncos (20-11).

With a minute left, most of the 4,097 fans who showed up were streaming out of the Huntsman Center aisles, content to turn their backs on the final buzzer of a season that slid into mediocrity by the end.



"We let one slip," junior Kyle Kuzma said.

Kuzma scored 21 points to lead Utah in its first home loss to an unranked team this season. Broncos junior Chandler Hutchison had a career-high 34 points to lead the upset.

A host of familiar issues made for one final, frustrating curtain call. The Utes gave away seven more turnovers in the second half than their opponent. From the 5:48 mark in the second half to nine seconds remaining, Utah missed 13 of 14 shots, allowing Boise State to take control.

Hutchison set a season high for points scored against the Utes by an individual player, the fifth time in the last eight games an opposing man has scored 25 points or more.

The same issues that caused the Utes, who finished 6-7 in their last 13 games, to miss the NCAA Tournament this season also made their NIT appearance a brief one. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said he didn't have a problem with Utah's effort as much as "mindless" turnovers and missed shots at the rim that emboldened the Broncos.

"We were good in that basketball game for 32 minutes," Krystkowiak said. "It's kind of the story of our season with the turnovers."

With a 37-30 advantage coming out of halftime, the Utes were poised to pull away. They quickly extended the lead to double digits on the strength of back-to-back 3-pointers by Gabe Bealer.

But the problem, as it often was this season, was turnovers: Utah had eight in the second half to Boise State's one. Then, in the last minutes, Utah couldn't hit shots.

"I just felt like we beat ourselves," Krystkowiak said. "Some of that is on me. It was a collective thing."

Kuzma said his primary desire in the tournament was to bring the team back to Madison Square Garden, where they knocked off Duke last year. This game was far from that one, one of the program's peaks.

The Utes showed early signs of that motivation, however, climbing out to a quick lead behind a bigger-than-average lineup. Junior Tyler Rawson took the floor, sliding Kuzma to small forward and Gabe Bealer to guard. While not running out to their usual on-court projection and pyrotechnic-laden intros, the Utes made four of their first six shots to take a 12-6 lead early on.

The problem was Hutchison. Boise State's 6-foot-7 all-conference star ran circles around Utah's defense, finding holes near the baseline and hitting shots at different parts of the floor. By halftime, he had 16 of his team's 30 points, and Utah couldn't find an adjustment to keep him quiet.

Krystkowiak didn't show outward signs of exasperation afterward, saying his players needed a little time to decompress away from the coaching staff, "and visa versa."

Within the next few weeks, he expects to debrief with his players and discuss this season, as well as the future. That will likely include Kuzma exploring his pro options, which Krystkowiak said he was open to helping him with.

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AT A GLANCE

Storylines

R Utah misses 13 of 14 shots in a five-and-a-half minute stretch.

»  Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison scores a career-high 34 points.

»  Kyle Kuzma finishes with 21 points and nine rebounds.


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