Survive and advance. Survive and advance. Survive and advance.
It doesn't have to be pretty in the NCAA tournament, and for about 30 minutes, it wasn't. Utah dug down deep and put together one of their better runs in the of the year in the second half with a 20-2 stretch to outlast Fresno State for an 80-69 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After a sluggish first half by the Utes that was filled with turnovers, the Utah still held a 33-22 lead that felt like it could, or should, have been a 20+ lead.
The second half was the same, but different. After the Bulldogs crawled back from a 14 point deficit to take a 1 point lead, the Utes finally starting playing Larry Kyrstkowiak basketball, leading to the large run that ultimately iced the game and will send Utah to Round of 32 to face Gonzaga.
A balanced offensive effort from the Utes saw four different starters score either 16 or 17 point and they all did it in a different fashion. Jakob Poeltl struggled a bit from the field, but was efficient enough, especially on the offensive glass with 9 boards (18 overall) that led second opportunities for both him and his teammates, to post 16 points, 6 of those from the line. Jordan Loveridge was 4 of 8 from behind the 3 point line, while Lorenzo Bonam combined tough finishes inside with a strong mid-range game that got him his. Brandon Taylor did his damage at the free throw line, going 7 for 7 there combined with a few finishes inside.
The turnover problem popped up again, letting Fresno State get back into the game, That's two games in a row that the Utes have turned the ball over 20 times and many of them were due to lazy passes or panicking when trapped (looking at you Bonam and Poeltl). Larry and company will have to clean that up before Saturday's tilt with the Zags or there season will end then.
For now, the Utes have to be happy that despite not playing anywhere near their best, they're one of 48 teams still alive. Survive and advance.