Utah hopes to turn tide against UCLA

NCAA Basketball

The final seconds of their games last Saturday made all the difference, which was a great thing for UCLA and a not-so-great predicament for Utah.

The way their seasons have played out also puts the two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Heading into Thursday’s game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, the Bruins (16-5, 12-3 Pac-12) have won three straight and are challenging USC for the conference championship while on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Utah, on the other hand, takes to its home court on the heels of three consecutive losses. The Utes (9-10, 6-9) have plummeted toward the bottom of the conference standings and would need a March Madness miracle to earn an NCAA invite.

In a remarkable development, UCLA gave Bruins coach Mick Cronin his 400th career victory Saturday over Arizona State despite leading for only 1.4 seconds. Those were the most important 1.4 seconds, though — coming at the end of regulation.

Though the Bruins trailed 77-70 with 3:57 to go, they made a final surge and finally took their first lead at 80-79, also the final score, when freshman Jaylen Clark sank the second of his two free throws.

“There are a lot of ways to win. What I want them to learn is they should do what I want them to do,” Cronin said. “I hope they also learned that once you get in the tournament games aren’t over until the end.”

Arizona State missed a half-court heave at the buzzer as UCLA temporarily moved into a first-place tie with USC.

As for the Utes, they’re coming off a disappointing ending at Oregon last Saturday.

The Utes squandered one opportunity when Alfonso Plummer turned the ball over late, and another when guard Timmy Allen was called for a double-dribble in the final seconds while down by just a point, foiling Utah’s attempt at a game-winning shot in a 67-64 loss.

“We gotta finish games,” Plummer said. “We battled the whole game.”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was reprimanded by the Pac-12 for the comments he made following the setback. Krystkowiak complained that referees don’t make certain calls — such as palming — and was frustrated that the ending came down to a whistle.

“I think at the end of the day we let the players determine a game,” he said. “To make up a call at the end that didn’t even happen is mind-boggling, when we have palming, (which) is also a rule, as is double-dribble. … So I am really confused and I feel really bummed for our team. I feel bad for the game, that it has to be that way. That’s how I feel about it.”

UCLA eked out a 72-70 win over Utah at Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

–Field Level Media

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