Utah’s Sedrick Barefield hopes a quarterfinal game in the Pac-12 basketball tournament is just the beginning, for once.
The senior guard’s first two appearances at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas have not lasted long or ended well. Each game concluded with the favored Utes desperately trying to force overtime and Barefield’s tying attempts not even hitting the rim.
A 3-point shot in traffic against California two years ago? Airball. A driving layup last March vs. Oregon? Blocked by Kenny Wooten.
And the Utes went home, failing to take advantage of their top-four seeds and first-round byes in the tournament. Barefield will get one last chance for an extended stay in Las Vegas. The No. 3-seeded Utes will take the court Thursday night against Oregon, an 84-51 winner over Washington State in Wednesday’s late first-round game. None of the Ducks’ starters had to play more than 23 minutes in the rout, as WSU committed 16 turnovers in the first half and shot 30.8 percent for the game. Oregon has a five-game winning streak, while holding opponents to 61 points or fewer. Robert Franks, WSU’s All-Pac-12 forward, was held to eight points.
Oregon entered the tournament with the third-best odds (4/1) of winning the title; Utah was the No. 5 choice at 10/1.
UTAH VS. OREGON
At T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
When • Thursday, 9:40 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN
The Utes just want to win one game, and go from there. Those last shots of the previous two years don’t bother Barefield, as much as the circumstances that made them necessary. Utah trailed California by 11 points in the last three minutes in 2017, before rallying. Last year, the Utes lost an 11-point lead over Oregon in the last 10 minutes, before Barefield again had the ball in his hands in a bid to tie the game.
“For me personally, it's kind of a little bit of a definition of who I am, just not being afraid to fail,” he said this week. “Hopefully, this year the outcome will change. … I'm due; I think we're due as a team.”
Barefield was redshirting as a transfer from SMU in 2016 when the Utes advanced to the Pac-12 tournament's championship game, losing to Oregon. The losses of the next two years came after the Utes went through up-and-down seasons to finish 11-7 in conference play and earn first-round byes – just as happened this year.
In 2017 and ’18, the Utes had done enough to merit an NIT bid, as consolation. That’s not the case now, and Utah’s season could end abruptly Thursday. Unless the Utes make a remarkable run to the Pac-12 tournament title this week, they will miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.
Barefield needs 14 points to become a top-30 scorer in Ute history. But he would be the only the second player in that club (joining Johnnie Bryant) never to make an NCAA appearance since the field was expanded to 48 teams in 1980.
Utah's quarterfinal results after receiving a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament:
2015 – Utah 80, Stanford 56.
2016 – Utah 80, USC 72.
2017 – California 78, Utah 75.
2018 – Oregon 68, Utah 66.
Regardless, the All-Pac-12 guard deserves credit for getting the Utes to this stage of a season that hardly appeared promising, as of the start of conference play. Utah routed Washington State and Colorado at home in January. The Utes’ other nine league wins, though, all came via clinching plays from Barefield, including his assist to Parker Van Dyke for the winning 3-pointer at UCLA.
Recent history suggests advancing to the Pac-12 semifinals would be an achievement for the Utes, and then they logically would have to beat No. 2 Arizona State and No. 1 Washington to win the tournament. Upsets are possible, though, as not even Washington has been overwhelming lately. The Huskies lost 55-47 to Oregon last Saturday.
Summarizing everybody's outlook in a well-balanced field, Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak said, “It's kind of a two-part deal: You're not coming in feeling like you're comfortable, but there is some enthusiasm, some optimism that if you play well, you don't have insurmountable odds.”
Utah beat USC and UCLA last week to secure a top-four finish for a fifth straight year. No other Pac-12 school can say that, after Arizona's run ended this season. “I feel really good about our team,” Krystkowiak said. “We've had plenty of issues along the way that I feel like we've addressed.”
And now comes another one: The Utes are back in T-Mobile Arena, where they’ve never won since the tournament moved from the nearby MGM Grand Garden Arena. Just this once, Barefield and his teammates would like to get the ending right.