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Utah falls to Cal in overtime as Utes finish Pac-12 basketball play 0-9 on the road

California forward D.J. Thorpe, middle, passes the ball while being defended by Utah forward Riley Battin, left, and forward Mikael Jantunen (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Berkeley, Calif. • If the University of Utah and Cal were playing under NBA rules on Saturday afternoon, the driving layup that Both Gach hit in the closing seconds of regulation counts.

The bucket counts, the game is tied, and the sophomore guard, who put together his best game in almost two months, is going to the line to give the Utes the lead with two seconds left at Haas Pavilion.

The Pac-12 is not the NBA, college officials are not of the same caliber as their NBA brethren. The foul call on Paris Austin was on the floor. Gach, to his credit, shrugged off the whole thing, hit both free throws and sent the game to overtime.

That whole sequence spoke to how valuable Gach was on Saturday afternoon. So did the fact that once he fouled out with 3:35 to go in overtime, the Golden Bears pounced, finally outlasting the Utes, 87-79, in front of an enthusiastic senior day crowd of 6,420.

Utah (15-14, 6-11 Pac-12) finishes the regular season 0-9 in Pac-12 road games. The Utes are the first league team to achieve that infamy since 2017 when both Oregon State and Washington finished 0-9.

“I don’t know, I’m not exactly sure,” Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Gach’s layup. “I know what he (the official) told me he thought the contact was before, so yeah, that was kind of a rough one, but he stepped up and made both free throws which was key in getting us to overtime.”

Gach’s day began with he and Riley Battin being removed from the starting lineup in favor of Jaxon Brenchley and Mikael Jantunen, respectively. That fact became a footnote at the 15:26 mark of the first half when Rylan Jones went down after appearing to take a shot to the head in the middle of traffic under the basket.

His day was done, his status unknown moving forward. In came Gach (19 points, 7-for-11 shooting), and he looked like the player everyone thinks he should be. With the ball primarily in his hands, he got to the rim, he made smart plays to set up teammates, and he found his jumper. Gach’s 3-pointer with 18:09 to play in the game was his first make from deep since Jan. 18 at Arizona State. He shot 0 for 20 from deep in the previous seven games before Saturday.

“Good players play with confidence, and that’s how Both plays,” said Timmy Allen after pumping in a game-high 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting in 43 minutes. “That’s what he does, it’s not surprising. It’s great to see him doing that, knocking down shots, slashing to the hoop, which is big for our team. He stepped up, but it’s no surprise.”

With this performance from Gach now on the table, what happens next offers some intrigue as the Utes are off until Saturday when they host Colorado at the Huntsman Center.

Krystkowiak did not have a status update on Jones, but he did indicate this is a deeper situation than simply Utes head athletic trainer Trevor Jameson weighing in to say whether he can or cannot play.

If Jones cannot play, that presumably leaves Gach to again take ownership of Utah’s offense, which looked fluider on Saturday than it has at too many junctures this winter, especially on the road.

The next time Krystkowiak is slated to speak is Tuesday at his normal Tuesday press conference, at which time he will undoubtedly be asked about Gach and Jones.

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