Utah senior guard Sedrick Barefield responded to a poor performance by himself and his team by making sure the Utes would salvage something from their Thanksgiving weekend of basketball in the Wooden Legacy.
Barefield scored 26 points Friday night as the Utes defeated Grand Canyon 75-66 in the consolation bracket of the tournament at Fullerton, Calif.
After a day off, Utah (3-2) will meet Northwestern on Sunday (noon MST, ESPNU) for the consolation title of the event at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym.
Barefield had scored four points on 1-of-8 shooting in Thursday’s 90-79 loss to Hawaii in the tournament’s opening round, as the Utes fell behind by 23 points before making a mild rally. Friday’s game was another story. The Utes wobbled in the second half, but Barefield steadied them with his 3-point shooting and free throws. He went 9 of 16 from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
Donnie Tillman added 14 points for Utah and freshmen Riley Battin and Both Gach had 10 points each, as Gach went 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. Utah shot 50 percent from the field to the Lopes’ 43 percent. The Utes did a better job of defending 3-point shots than they did against Hawaii, as Grand Canyon went 9 of 24.
Alessandro Lever scored 16 points for Grand Canyon, a Western Athletic Conference school located in Phoenix. GCU (3-3) had led Seton Hall in the late stages of a first-round game, before losing 82-75. The Lopes never led against Utah, although they rallied from 16 points down to in the first half to within one point midway through the second half.
The Utes took a 35-29 lead into halftime, but GCU had cut significantly into their 16-point advantage.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak made two changes in his starting lineup Friday, inserting Jayce Johnson at center and Gach at guard in place of Novak Topalovic and Charles Jones. Jr. The new starters seemed to give Utah more energy at the start of the game, although they were not the key players in the Utes’ 14-0 run that gave them a 24-8 lead.
The Lopes scored the last five points of the half though, and eventually cut the lead to one point in the second half. Barefield responded with consecutive 3-pointers, restoring Utah’s edge to 54-47. Later, another 3-pointer from Barefield made it 61-52 in the last four minutes.
The Utes got a total of only two points from their traditional center position, among Johnson, Topalovic and Brandon Morley. They combined for 10 rebounds, however, and Topalovic and Morley each blocked a shot.
The Utes went into the Wooden Legacy hoping to meet Miami in the championship game, but Hawaii ruined those plans. But their game Sunday against Northwestern will be meaningful. Northwestern opened the tournament with a 78-59 loss to Fresno State, then beat La Salle 91-74 in the consolation bracket. The Wildcats are ranked No. 59 by kenpom.com, so they offer the Utes a chance to come out of the Wooden Legacy with improved credentials, especially after the way they played against Hawaii.