The University of Utah Runnin Utes arrived at the Sweet 16 site for the first time since 2005. They had a tall task in Houston, Texas going up against College Basketball Powerhouse, Duke. The Blue Devils were the #1 seed in the South Region. The game started out very ugly on offense for both teams. The first field goal wasn’t scored until both teams combined went 0-11. Part of this is because they are playing in a different venue. NRG stadium is the home of the Houston Texans of the NFL, so the court is on a platform that is different from a NBA or college basketball arena, which could play a part in the shoot difficulties for the players. Once the nerves and the acclimation to the venue sunk in, both teams started to play. The Blue Devils took a 27-22 lead heading into the locker room. The Utes came out firing on the first 3 possessions before going on a scoring slump that involved scoring 0 points in 8 possessions that included 4 turnovers in those 8 possessions. Duke led by as many as 15 points with under 8 minutes to play before the Utes went on a 9-0 run to put the Duke lead to 49-43 with 3 minutes to play. Both teams would exchange baskets before Duke sealed the deal and came away with a 63-57 win and ending the Utes fantastic season.
Justise Winslow led the Devils with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 8 of 13 shooting from the field and 3-4 from 3. Tyus Jones had 15 points on just 3 of 9 shooting from the field, but hit 9 of his 10 free throws. The All-American freshman, Jahlil Okafor had 6 points and 8 rebounds on 3-6 shooting. The Utes held him in check by double teaming him and making him pass to his teammates.
Brandon Taylor led the Utes with 15 points on 4 of 10 shooting from the field and 3-7 from downtown. Dallin Bachynski was the only reason the Utes stayed in the game in the first half and keeping it close. He had 11 points off the bench for the Utes. Jakob Poeltl had 10 points and 8 rebounds. Delon Wright had 10 points and 6 rebounds in his last game in a Utah uniform.
Duke will advance to the Elite 8 and will take on Gonzaga on Sunday.
What went wrong?
In my preview, I said that one of the keys to victory was taking care of the ball. The Utes turned the ball over 15 times. You can’t turn the ball over that much in a big game like the Sweet 16 especially when you had only 9 turnovers in the win over Georgetown in the second round.
This season put the Utes back on the map when not a lot of people thought they would make it this far. Crazy to think that just 4 years ago when Larry Krystkowiak took the reigns from Jim Boylen. The Utes only won 6 games and now they go to the sweet 16 and win 26 games. This team will just get better especially since Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski were the only seniors for Utah. It will be hard to replace Delon, but I believe in Larry and his ability to recruit. If Jakob Poeltl comes back (which I hope he does), the Utes will have Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Dakari Tucker, Chris Reyes, Brekott Chapman all returning to the Utes and possibly some other surprises. In my opinion, this team will be a tournament team every year for a long time. The Runnin Utes are back!