The University of Utah basketball team did not play particularly well on Wednesday night against Oregon State at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes yielded 52.7% shooting to the Beavers, turned the ball over 15 times, gave 12 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points. Despite all of that, in addition to not holding a lead for most of the second half, Utah played well enough to be right there at the end, in position to win a game and build some momentum with the Pac-12 Tournament beginning March 10 in Las Vegas.
Instead, the waning possessions of a sometimes-ugly, sometimes-enjoyable game took on a familiar look. Utah failed to execute late, ultimately falling in a game it could have won, 75-70, to the Beavers at the Huntsman Center.
Nine of Utah’s 11 Pac-12 losses have now come by a combined 43 points for an average margin of defeat of 4.8 points. That margin of defeat across that many games should be tough to stomach, and the way Wednesday played out isn’t going to make things any easier.
With 2:37 to play and Utah (10-12, 7-11 Pac-12) trailing by two, the Utes got out on the fastbreak with Alfonso Plummer pacing a 2-on-1 advantage. The senior sharpshooter lost control of the ball out of bounds as he made his way inside the 3-point line.
The ensuing possession eventually turned into a second-chance layup by 7-foot-1 Beavers senior Roman Silva, plus the foul. Silva made the free throw, so instead of Utah scoring down the other end, Oregon State got three points for a five-point swing and a 75-70 lead.
“We’re extremely disappointed that we didn’t get better looks on the rim in the last couple of minutes, but I’m proud of the guys for guarding and giving us a chance,” said Utah associate head coach Tommy Connor, who conducted the postgame Zoom call in place of head coach Larry Krystkowiak.
The Utes got back to within two at 72-70 off a Mikael Jantunen 3-pointer from the right baseline off a nice drive-and-dish from Timmy Allen with 1:14 remaining. That was the last bucket Utah registered, not to mention its last field goal attempt.
The Utes’ glaring late miscue came inside the final 40 seconds. On a pick-and-roll play up top with the ball in Pelle Larsson’s hands, Jantunen ducked in as Larsson drove. According to Connor, the screener for Larsson, Branden Carlson, was supposed to go downhill and get to the rim, but he trailed the play looking for a midrange jumper.
Larsson’s options at that point were to hit Jantunen ducking in, give it up to Carlson out top, or take another dribble or two and get to the rim. Larsson sought to hit Carlson, who appeared open momentarily, but the pass was tipped by Beavers star Ethan Thompson and stolen by Warith Alatishe.
“He was wide open, and I turned it over,” Larsson said. “It was more of a bad offensive play than a stop. I threw it into his hands.”
“We can’t turn the ball over like that,” Krystkowiak told The Salt Lake Tribune via phone Wednesday night. “There were passes that weren’t completed, those are the ones you remember. We had sloppy passes, we couldn’t generate leads. We have to be able to pass and catch.”
Oregon State (14-11, 10-9 Pac-12), Utah turned the ball over again on a backcourt violation, the Beavers hit two more free throws for the icing, and that was that, another lost night in the middle of another lost season.
Added Jantunen: “We made a lot of mistakes down the stretch and we had chances to win the game, but this is the end result and we have to learn from this. We play again in three days and we have to be ready for that game. It doesn’t feel good to lose this game, but we have to learn from it and move forward.”
Given what this season has been, what comes next for Utah is anybody’s guess. The Utes will close the regular season Saturday afternoon against an Arizona State team that has had more COVID-19 problems than most of the league, but is now looking healthy and capable of being a problem for opponents at the Pac-12 Tournament.
Beyond Saturday, the Utes are locked into the 8-9 game at the Pac-12 Tournament where, based on prior evidence, is capable of winning or losing, by a small margin or a large margin.
Everything remains on the table for this Utah team, good, bad or otherwise as the postseason looms.