The common refrain from members of the Utes during the preseason featured an emphasis on a collective effort and different people stepping up on any given night. That all seemed like a way to talk around the fact that they didn’t know who would emerge as their go-to guy.
But Utah cemented that identity as a team with a whole larger than the sum of its parts with a signature win over UCLA, 84-78, in the Huntsman Center on Thursday night without two rotation players. Utah avenged a loss to UCLA in January, and has now won five in a row and eight out of 10.
Thursday’s win, which catapulted Utah (18-9, 10-6) into a tie for third-place in the Pac-12 with UCLA (19-9, 10-6), came on the strength of a career-high 18-point performance by junior Parker Van Dyke in his eighth start of the season.
“We talk about it all the time, we’re doing it as a team,” Utes senior David Collette said. “I’ve said this plenty of times before, but we don’t have one guy that’s going to go out there and dazzle and do everything for us. We do a great job of sharing the ball and getting everybody involved.”
Collette scored 21 points on 9-for-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds, while Justin Bibbins recorded his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 assists. Tyler Rawson tacked on 12 points and seven assists.
Van Dyke, who came into the game having averaged 4.0 points per game this season, played a major role with Sedrick Barefield (ribs) injured. Van Dyke, a Salt Lake City resident, made a pair of back-breaking desperation 3-pointers from well beyond the arc with the shot clock expiring in the final two and a half minutes to secure the win. He made 6 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range.
“It’s very special to have an individual night like this against a great team in a great part of the season,” Van Dyke said. “I mean these are games we need to win to increase our chances of going to the postseason, going to the NCAA Tournament, so this is definitely something that’s special. I grew up watching games on the Huntsman Center floor, and to have an opportunity to play every game [here] is awesome. But then this game specifically is something I’ll always remember.”
The Utes took a 47-40 into halftime and led 54-40 early in the second half after they started the half with a Van Dyke layup, a Collette dunk and a Gabe Bealer 3-pointer.
However, Bruins star point guard Aaron Holiday (23 points) seemed poised to almost single-handedly rally his team. He scored nine straight points for the Bruins during one stretch and his drive and kick to Thomas Welsh for a corner 3-pointer pulled the Bruins within 70-69 with 2:50 remaining.
True to form, the Utes answered with a collective effort that included a Van Dyke deep 3-pointer, then Rawson poked the ball away from Holiday and Bealer drove the baseline to draw a foul. Bealer made both free throws and the Utes were ahead 75-69. The Bruins didn’t get to within two points until Holiday launched a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, but Bibbins and Van Dyke converted their free throws to close the game.
“I think the strength of our team is to use the wolf and the pack mentality,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “The strength of our pack is each individual wolf being able to play for each other, and then the strength of each is the pack.”