SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah had the No. 4 team in the nation in trouble and could not close it out.
Gabe York and Nick Johnson each scored 15 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 13 and fourth-ranked Arizona escaped with a 67-63 overtime victory against the Utes on Wednesday night.
It was a game of missed opportunities for Utah (17-9, 6-8 Pac-12). Delon Wright botched a dunk just before the halftime buzzer, Jordan Loveridge missed a key free throw and Brandon Taylor was off target on three straight from the foul line with a chance to give the Utes the lead in overtime.
“There’s plenty of mental things we have to clean up, but you know, I thought the kids battled,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
Still, it was hard not to think of what might have been after Utah’s second overtime loss against a top-10 conference opponent this season – both at home.
“I think everybody in (the locker room) had issues, and I’m taking a look at myself,” Krystkowiak said. “We pounded through a bunch of stuff in shootaround today and it was the first shootaround I think that we had all year that I didn’t require our team to shoot free throws.”
Loveridge, the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, was held scoreless until 3:40 remained in regulation. His first points were crucial, though, as the Utes ripped off a 10-2 run to get back in the game.
A pair of big baskets from freshman Ahmad Fields cut the deficit to 48-44, and Arizona (24-2, 11-2) went 3:13 without a field goal after a layup from T.J. McConnell made it 52-44 with 6:41 left.
Utah tied the game in the closing minute when Loveridge made one of two free throws with 28 seconds to go. McConnell had a chance to win it for the Wildcats in regulation, but missed a runner in the lane as time expired.
In overtime, the score was tied at 58 before Hollis-Jefferson made two baskets to give the Wildcats a four-point lead with 1:52 left. His second bucket came after Taylor, an 86 percent free throw shooter, missed three free throws in a row to prevent Utah from taking the lead.
Perhaps the biggest blow, however, came when Wright threw away an errant pass intended for a wide-open Dallin Bachynski with the Utes trailing 62-60 with 33.9 seconds left.
Arizona star Aaron Gordon found himself in early foul trouble and fouled out with 8:41 to play in the second half. The Utes were able to capitalize on his absence in regulation, but untimely errors did them in during overtime.
Arizona held the Utes to one field goal over the final 5 minutes.
“We just had to buckle down,” Johnson said. “We had to buckle down on defense. We had to rebound. They were really getting us on the offensive rebounds.”
The Wildcats beat Utah for the ninth straight time since a loss in the 1998 NCAA tournament. Arizona also held onto sole possession of first place in the Pac-12, one game ahead of UCLA.
“At some points, we weren’t playing smart basketball,” McConnell said. “But at the end we did and that’s what matters most.”
Taylor had 13 points and Bachynski and Wright each scored 12 for the Utes, who lost at home for the second time this season.
Utah fell short despite outrebounding Arizona 37-31 and finishing with a 34-23 edge in the paint.
“It was a classic game and one of the things I was most proud of is the fact that we came back,” Krystkowiak said. “We built that deficit against a really good basketball team and (then) put a little different lineup on the floor and went small. I thought some of our young kids gave us a great lift and we got more aggressive. We got to the free throw line.”
The Wildcats, suddenly vulnerable following a season-ending injury to Brandon Ashley, did just enough to win, while the Utes were left wondering why they haven’t been able to close out the close ones.
“Give credit to Arizona,” Bachynski said. “They forced us into turnovers during the first half. Some guys had off nights, but we aren’t going to stop fighting. We always play to the buzzer.”