Las Vegas • Larry Krystkowiak knew what he signed up for Wednesday night against the University of Kentucky.
Yes, Wednesday night’s affair with the sixth-ranked Wildcats was on a neutral floor, but nothing about a Kentucky game is ever neutral. Their notoriously-rabid fan base travels well on the road, which meant T-Mobile Arena was essentially Rupp Arena West at tip-off.
Krystkowiak might have known that was coming, but Timmy Allen didn’t. With Utah lined up for the national anthem, the sophomore guard leaned into Krystkowiak and noted it felt like a Kentucky home game.
By the time the game ended, the only noise in the building was being produced by the small minority of Utah faithful behind the Utes bench. The blue-clad folks left stunned as Utah, once up 17, gave it all back, but made enough plays down the stretch for a seismic 69-66 win in front of 5,507 at T-Mobile.
“This is really big for us, we’re not shocked we won,” said sophomore guard Both Gach, who caught fire from the floor early on his way to 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting at six rebounds. “We try to come out, play the game, and obviously we weren’t the team expected to win, so for us having a big win against Kentucky, it means a lot for us.”
With the 17-point lead gone, but with Kentucky unable to grab a lead, Utah (9-2) led by three when Gach drove the baseline, and kicked the ball to Riley Battin in the left corner. The sophomore forward calmly buried an open 3-pointer for a 66-60 lead with 2:28 left, prompting a John Calipari timeout.
There were a handful of times in the second half where Kentucky came charging, and the crowd awoke, trying to will the Wildcats all the way back. Down six, Kentucky (8-2) ripped off six points in 37 seconds, aided by two Utah turnovers in the backcourt.
With the game tied at 66, Allen knocked down a runner off one foot, over 6-foot-11 Nick Richards, for a 68-66 lead. Utah never trailed again.
“It was tough, but that’s stuff I work on,” said Allen, who made his case as the best player on the floor Wednesday night with 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “I’m not surprised I made it, but to have a 6-11 guy right there, it was tough. He’s a physical presence, but that’s stuff I work on.”
UTAH 69, NO. 6 KENTUCKY 66
•Timmy Allen’s 25 points, seven rebounds, and four assists pushes Utah to a huge neutral-floor win, 69-66, over No. 6 Kentucky.
•Freshman point guard Rylan Jones returned to the lineup after missing a week with a rib injury. Jones started and played 38 minutes.
•Kentucky managed to erase a 17-point deficit, but never held a lead beyond 2-0.
Clinging to that lead and needing a stop, Battin’s attempt at drawing a charge was initially called a block. After an official review, the call was changed to a charge with 22.3 seconds left.
A free throw from Rylan Jones capped the scoring. Kentucky had two reasonable looks for the tie, but Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley both missed from deep. Quickley’s missed capped a 2-for-17 night from 3-point range for the Wildcats.
Jones (12 points, six assists, 38 minutes) played and started on Wednesday night after missing a week with a rib injury. The freshman returned to practice on Tuesday, signaling a return was coming at some point in the near future. His night almost ended early when he took a hit from Richards with about 4:30 to go in the game. He exited briefly, but returned for the stretch run.
“I think you can see Rylan has some poise and some savvy to him,” Krystkowiak said. “These guys know he’s a warrior, and I thought there were a lot of savvy plays out there where he did a good job with foul trouble.
“That tumble he took with about 5:00 to go in the game, I couldn’t believe he came back out of the locker room. It says a lot about his toughness.”