Utah’s losing a big chunk of a 27-point lead was not necessarily part of the script, but UCLA’s rally turned to be just a buildup to some memorable moments for the Utes in the end.
In the last two minutes Saturday, senior guards Parker Van Dyke and Sedrick Barefield delivered consecutive 3-pointers, securing a 92-81 victory over UCLA and nicely capturing the flavor of Senior Night at the Huntsman Center. Those shots enabled Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak to get co-captain Beau Rydalch into the game and then substitute for Van Dyke and Barefield, giving them proper sendoffs.
“That’s right up there with some of my other Ute memories … a really, really cool moment,” Van Dyke said. “I’ll never forget that feeling.”
The Utes made it all the more meaningful with their first sweep of a pair of Pac-12 visiting opponents this season, while earning a No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Utah will open the tournament in Thursday’s quarterfinals for a fifth straight year, and nobody else in the league can say that.
(All times MDT)
No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Arizona, 1 p.m.
No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 California, 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Stanford, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Washington State, 9:30 p.m.
No. 1 Washington vs. USC/Arizona, 1 p.m.
No. 4 Oregon State vs. Colorado/California, 3:30 p.m.
No. 2 Arizona State vs. UCLA/Stanford, 7 p.m.
No. 3 Utah vs. Oregon/Washington State, 9:30 p.m.
A top-four finish seemed unlikely as the calendar turned to 2019 and the Utes stood 6-6, but they went 11-7 in the Pac-12 after the analytics suggested they would win six conference games. Facing a more demanding schedule in the second half of Pac-12 play, Utah went 6-3. The Utes finished 6-0 against the Pac-12’s California schools, while playing Stanford and Cal once each.
Utah 92, UCLA 81
• Utah earns a top-four seed in the Pac-12 tournament for a fifth straight year with a 92-81 win over UCLA on Senior Night.
• Reserve center Brandon Morley plays a season-high 17 minutes and posts eight points and nine rebounds.
• The announced attendance is a season-high 12,914 as Utah honors Parker Van Dyke, Sedrick Barefield, Beau Rydalch and Novak Topalovic.
As the season went along, Utah “improved dramatically,” Krystkowiak said, “which has always been our goal.”
The Utes are not as good as they looked in Saturday’s first 17 minutes, although maintaining that pace would have been impossible. Utah built a 51-24 lead. Think about this: Coupled with a 46-23 closing spurt in a buzzer-beating victory in Los Angeles four weeks ago, those runs added up to a 97-47 domination of the proud Bruins in about 29 minutes of basketball.
Executing an inside-out plan against UCLA’s zone defense, the Utes staged “quite a clinic offensively,” Krystkowiak said, with Donnie Tillman scoring all of his 14 points in the first half.
His team ended up needing most of that 27-point cushion, though. The Bruins (16-15, 9-9) made a 22-6 run in a six-minute stretch, spanning halftime. Utah did just enough to fend off UCLA, after the Bruins made another surge to finish with 50 second-half points.
Ute freshman Riley Battin hit two 3-pointers from the corner at key moments and Barefield’s driving helped him finish with 29 points. Timmy Allen also came through, scoring 17 points amid foul trouble. The Utes tied a school record with 17 3-pointers in a season-high 38 attempts.
Utah’s interior defense was exploited in the second half, with center Jayce Johnson missing another game due to an ankle injury. UCLA got within eight points before the Utes steadied themselves.
“We just were determined to not let them do what we did to them,” said Van Dyke, remembering how Utah rallied from 22 points down in the last 12 minutes in Los Angeles, winning via his 3-pointer for the team’s only lead all day.
In this episode, the Bruins trailed all the way. UCLA’s comeback made the Utes agonize more than they should have, but it all ended well.
The Utes could find satisfaction in earning a first-round bye, having come from their dubious starting point of the Pac-12 season. “It’s a lot of fun to watch us grow as a unit,” Barefield said.
And now there’s more to do, after Krystkowiak’s last two teams lost quarterfinal games in Las Vegas.