Nothing sounds appealing about Utah's game vs. Kentucky in that venue, except maybe that an in-season visit will help the 2019-20 Utes prepare to make a better showing in the Pac-12 tournament next March. Utah's three-year history in T-Mobile became even worse in a 66-54 loss to Oregon late Thursday night in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, almost certainly ending the team's season.
Utah's players and coaches are hoping for an unlikely NIT bid; they wouldn't play in any lesser event, taking the usual stance of a power-conference program, coach Larry Krystkowiak said. In any case, the Utes' T-Mobile record coincides with their run of three years without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“We haven’t got a win in this building; that’s very disappointing,” Krystkowiak said.
The Utes (17-14) will have to live with a third straight quarterfinal loss in the new arena as a top-four seed, with all of Krystkowiak’s talk about that annual goal beginning to sound hollow. And he’ll have to deal with his 2-15 record against Oregon coach Dana Altman, including 0-5 including in Las Vegas. Krystkowiak rationalized the past two tournament losses as a case of Utah’s running into the Ducks’ “athleticism and toughness.”
Utah showed some of those qualities itself this time against Oregon, especially in taking a 24-18 halftime lead, but couldn't make enough shots to stick with the Ducks. Barefield missed his first 3-point attempt, then forward Donnie Tillman hit one for the game's first basket. After that, the Utes went 1 of 21. Barefield finished 1 of 9, Van Dyke was 0 for 7, Tillman went 1 for 6 and Both Gach missed his only 3-point attempt.
“Man, it's just too bad I didn't shoot it better,” Van Dyke said. “... Just uncharacteristic of us to not step up and knock down those shots we usually do.”
Barefield blamed the shooting backdrop, an unfamiliar venue and officiating that cost him 11 minutes of the first half with foul trouble, amid the disclaimer of “no excuses.” Scoring five points Thursday, Barefield finished just outside the top 30 of Utah's career scoring list.
“They missed some open 3s, but a lot of them were really contested,” Altman said.
The Ducks did have something to do with Utah’s futility, judging by league champion Washington’s 3-of-20 shooting from 3-point range in a home-court loss last weekend. Krystkowiak, though said he counted “probably 10 of 'em” that were open looks for his players: “If those 3s go in, it’s probably a different story.”
Utah still had a shot, trailing 47-43. But forward Paul White got free for a 3-pointer with 4:18 left, and the Utes were done. Krystkowiak immediately substituted for Gach, blaming him for that defensive “breakdown,” although he didn’t name him in postgame interviews.
Gach slapped a towel as he took a seat on the bench. His freshman season ended unhappily. So did the college careers of Barefield and Van Dyke, who did so much for Utah and wanted to do more. The consolation is the Utes got 41 points and 23 rebounds from three returning players: Tillman (18 points, four rebounds), Timmy Allen (14 points, seven boards) and Jayce Johnson (nine points, 12 rebounds, four blocked shots).
The outcome left “a lot of room for improvement,” Tillman said, as the Utes usually say, coming out of Las Vegas.
Utah's quarterfinal results as a top-four seed 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.
2019 – Oregon 66, Utah 54.