Tucson, Ariz. • The Utes’ bid to complete a weekend sweep of the Arizona schools and knock off nationally ranked opponents in back-to-back games came down to one shot with less than four seconds remaining.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak and freshman forward Donnie Tillman saw a foul that went uncalled. Arizona coach Sean Miller saw great defense. Ultimately, the Utes got the ball to the guy they wanted to have it. How things unfolded is a matter of interpretation.
Utah inbounded with 4.3 seconds left under its own basket, trailing by one point. The Utes wanted to get it to the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Tillman between the elbow and the mid-post, where he’d have a chance to drive toward the basket or kick out to an open shooter.
Tillman adjusted to the air-tight defense by former Wasatch Academy star Emmanuel Akot and got the ball moving toward the block. Tillman twisted and flipped up a reverse layup attempt from under the basket that didn’t hit the rim, and the 11th-ranked Wildcats escaped with a 74-73 win in the in the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon.
“It was one of two things,” Krystkowiak said when asked if they got the look they wanted. “If they were below him, Donnie was going to (pause) ... yeah, we got the look. We got the look. We got the foul.”
The Utes, who trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, rallied to take the lead for the first time with 5:28 remaining on a pair of free throws by Sedrick Barefield (26 points). However, Dusan Ristic — the Wildcats’ other big man next to projected NBA lottery pick Deandre Ayton — scored seven straight points to put his squad up 74-70 with 1:01 remaining.
With less than 10 seconds left, David Collette (14 points) kicked out a pass to Justin Bibbins (10 points) for a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 74-73. Then Wildcats star guard Allonzo Trier was called for an offensive foul, his fifth of the game, on an inbound attempt under the Utes’ basket. That foul gave the Utes (13-8, 5-5 Pac-12) their final chance.
“Emmanuel did a good job,” Miller said. “He, I think, created some doubt on whether he would be able to get open if he went up towards the elbow. I almost feel like he broke the play off. I don’t know if I’m right, but [Tillman] caught the ball around the backboard and Emmanuel is a tough kid who has got size to him. I don’t know if he got a good shot off.”
As far as the possibility of a foul on that play, Miller said, “The way that they got the ball, I would say it’d be tough to go two calls in a row there, so we did a good job of not fouling on that last play.”
Tillman, who scored six of his seven points in the second half, thought differently.
“Of course I’m going to say I felt like I got pushed in the back,” Tillman said. “But at the end of the day when time is expiring like that, no one’s going to make that call. They’re going to let you play it out. I should have took a bounce maybe, or just went up even stronger.”
The Wildcats (18-4, 8-1) extended their winning streak in the McKale Center to 12 games, and they’ve won 15 of their past 16 games, regardless of venue, dating to November. The Utes’ last win in Tucson came on Dec. 6, 1986.
“I’m mad about this one,” Collette said. “This one hurts, especially when we had the chance right there. We had it in our hands. We just couldn’t complete it.”