Rylan Jones cannot do what Both Gach can do.
To be clear, that is not a knock on Jones. The freshman point guard has had a productive season for the University of Utah. He has played well, he has played hard, he has often played hurt. When the Pac-12 announces its All-Freshman team on Monday, Jones is going to be on it. Jones is part of the present and the future of Larry Krystkowiak’s program.
All of that said, Gach brings a completely different dynamic to the point guard position, as evidenced during his career afternoon as part of the Utes’ 74-72 overtime win over Colorado on Saturday afternoon.
Gach would not admit as much postgame, but with the ball primarily in his hands, he has looked more comfortable than at any point in the past two months. Furthermore, the Utah offense has, at various points, looked more fluid with Gach at the wheel.
“I guess you could say that,” Gach said after pouring in a game-high 28 points, including three free throws with 0.6 seconds left in overtime to provide the final margin. “I feel like I’m being myself, being able to make plays for myself and my teammates.
“It’s not good being in a slump, you get down on yourself. You have to keep grinding it out, keep getting in the gym. I knew one day, I would get out of it.”
Gach’s athleticism and length are unmatched on this roster, and both were on display Saturday. He defended, he slashed, he pulled up, he got to the rim. His turnaround jumper in the lane over a defender with 2.6 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime.
Late in overtime, as it looked like Colorado would do enough to escape Salt Lake City with a much-needed win, Gach rushed the ball up the floor, pulled up from the left wing and was fouled by McKinley Wright IV with 0.6 seconds left. Gach calmly hit all three free throws, even after Krystkowiak directed him to intentionally miss the third free throw with a one-point lead.
“I think Both is far-more explosive, athletic in getting downhill and maybe hard to stay in front,” Krystkowiak said.
“From an athletic point of view, I think he gives you a little more stature than maybe Rylan would.”
Gach had been slumping for the better part of two months, which included a four-game absence with a knee injury. He returned from that on Feb. 13 at Oregon State. The slump wore on, but after he seemed to break out of it at Stanford on Feb. 26, Gach was removed from the starting lineup at Cal three days later.
Early in that game, Jones went down with what was later diagnosed as a concussion. From that point, Utah’s backcourt has belonged to Gach and he has delivered. Over the Utes’ last three games, two of which were road losses, Gach is averaging 20.6 points on 59.5% shooting, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while defending mostly at a high level.
Jones was unavailable Saturday afternoon, but was on the Utah bench, which would indicate he is dealing with light and noise better than he was a few days ago. His status for Wednesday’s first round of the Pac-12 Tournament is unknown, but with Gach on a tear, that is less of a concern for the moment.
“This is the stuff I work for,” Gach said. “If you’re confident in your game, you’re confident you’ll make shots.”
Utah (16-14, 7-11 Pac-12) is locked into the No. 9 seed on Wednesday and a 1 p.m. tip at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Utes will face No. 8 seed Oregon State. The two teams split home and home during the regular season.
At T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Wednesday, first round
(8) Oregon State vs. (9) Utah, 1 p.m.
(5) Arizona vs. (12) Washington, 3:30 p.m.
(7) Stanford vs. (10) Cal, 7 p.m.
(6) Colorado vs. (11) Washington State, 9:30 p.m.
Oregon State-Utah vs. (1) Oregon, 1 p.m.
Arizona-Washington vs. (2) UCLA, 3:30 p.m.
Stanford-Cal vs. (3) Arizona State, 7 p.m.
Colorado-Washington State vs (4) USC, 9:30 p.m.
Oregon State-Utah/Oregon vs. Arizona-Washington/UCLA, 7 p.m.
Stanford-Cal/Arizona State vs. Colorado-Washington State/USC, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, championship game
UTAH 74, COLORADO 72 (OT)
• Both Gach’s three free throws with 0.6 seconds left in overtime delivered Utah a 74-72 win over Colorado.
• Gach finished with a career-high 28 points, five rebounds and four assists.
• Utah finishes its home schedule 12-2 at the Huntsman Center. The losses are to the top-two teams in the Pac-12, Oregon and UCLA.