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Utes still within reach of a top-four Pac-12 finish after weekend split vs. UCLA and USC

Utah forward Tyler Rawson (21) celebrates a three-point basket during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against USC on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

With their win streak snapped and one game remaining in the regular season, the Utes must turn their attention to avenging an earlier loss to Colorado and potentially securing a top-four seed in the Pac-12 tournament where they may need to win multiple games in order to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

Saturday’s 74-58 loss to USC left Utah needing a little bit of help to get into the top four of the Pac-12 Tournament and earn a first-round bye in Las Vegas. Utah (18-10, 10-7) came into the week controlling its own fait with three straight home games — two against teams ahead of it in the standings.

“We got punched in the mouth a few times today,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said following Saturday’s loss. “It’s a setback. I’ve always talked about the season being a marathon. Eighteen games in the regular season, about a mile and a half each. We got down to the last three miles and we had a rough little stretch. Explainable. It’s not like we have to ‘Oh, my God. What do we have to fix? How do we need to do this.’ No, it’s just part of the schedule, part of the injuries.

“Now, we have a week to play before we can close out on Senior Night against a good Colorado team, finish the marathon off, see who we play in Vegas — when and where — and see if we can do some damage there.”

The Utes had won five straight games prior to Saturday, including Thursday night’s win over UCLA, and eight out of 10 games. One of those two losses came against Colorado in Boulder on Feb. 2. They’ll host Colorado on Saturday. The Pac-12 Tournament begins the following week.

Stanford (16-13, 10-6) moved into fourth place ahead of Utah with a win on Saturday night. Stanford has two games remaining against Arizona and Arizona State, a loss in either game and a Utah win would put them in a tie with Utah having won the head-to-head meeting.

Washington (19-10, 9-7) has games remaining against Oregon and Oregon State. A pair of wins for Washington could move into a tie with the Utes — provided Utah beats Colorado — but the Utes swept the season series against Washington. Oregon (10-10, 9-7) also could end up with the same record as the Utes, but the Utes won their only head-to-head game.

“Every [week] has been a big week for conference,” Utes senior forward Tyler Rawson said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun next week preparing for Colorado. It’s going to be fun preparing for them all week. It’ll be nice to get our legs back under us. I’m looking forward to the challenge. We all are. This game could be huge momentum going into the Pac-12 Tournament.”

The Utes will have until Saturday to shake off the loss and potentially get more healthy. They’ve played the past three games with junior guard Sedrick Barefield (ribs) and sophomore center Jayce Johnson (foot) either unavailable or limited due to injuries.

Johnson, the team’s second-leading rebounder (5.5 per game), played just 10 minutes in the past two games after missing the game at Washington State on Feb. 17. Barefield, the third-leading scorer (11.2 points per game), hasn’t played in the past two games. He came out of the Washington State game after playing four minutes.

“We’ve definitely missed Sed the last few games,” Rawson said. “He’s a great addition. Whether he’s coming off the bench or starting for us, he’s a great tool for us. We’ve also missed Jayce. He’s dealing with some injuries as well. Those two guys, we miss and we need them in the rotation. Hopefully we get them back before Friday.”

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