The hungry Oregon State Beavers smelt blood in the water after the Utes showed major signs of vulnerability. The most dangerous thing to face on the road is a desperate, winless team that truly believes they can get their first victory. After an up and down performance Sunday night, Utah found itself with an eight point lead and four minutes to go. All they had to do was hold court and they would be one game closer to a first round bye.
Instead, Utah would miss five straight shots and have two inexcusable turnovers from their veteran players. Stephen Thompson Jr showed what a clutch player needs to do and scored 14 of Oregon State’s last 22 points, including the game winning shot with 10.6 remaining.
In true Utah form, they gave the Beavers their first conference victory after losing 68-67, falling to 17-10 (8-7) on the season.
Death, Taxes and Ugly Starts
One thing Utah has not been able to do this season is have a solid opening minutes of a game. The ugly trend continued Sunday evening against the Beavers.
Utah started the game with David Collette traveling while backing down to the basket, then they would end up with three more in the first five and a half minutes. They were able to keep in the game due to Oregon State’s equally sloppy play, but after being tied at 6-6, Stephen Thompson Jr led the Beavers on a 10-0 burst.
Over a 1:49 stretch Oregon State made four straight shots including two three point shots. Meanwhile Utah struggled to make only one of eight straight attempts. Luckily for Utah, Thompson picked up his second foul after guiding the Utes to a 16-6 lead and was forced to the bench.
Out of a timeout, Parker Van Dyke slipped behind the Beaver defense for a reverse layup, then Devon Daniels returned to form and shimmied his way into the paint for a floater, then Kuzma faced up his man on the elbow and made a nice one-on-one move. The Utes were back in action. After starting the game shooting 3-10, Utah recovered by making 10 of the next 12 attempts, while holding Oregon State to a 2-14 stretch.
The Utes claimed the lead 20-18 on another floater from Daniels in the lane. Utah eventually closed the half on a 22-8 run and hit the locker room holding a 28-24 lead.
Bealer off the Bench
The Utes once again became stagnant offensively. Kyle Kuzma was the only Ute who didn’t appear hesitant to shoot the ball. The Beavers showed a spark and then Gabe Bealer came off the bench and gave Utah a shot in the arm. Bealer gave Utah an instant three point threat, something they have lacked for a while now. Bealer hit back-to-back threes that gave Utah its largest lead of the game at 51-38. The Beavers made a quick run and then Bealer drained another three to hold them off and maintain a 54-41 lead.
Bealer finished his seven minutes of production with 9 points on 3-5 shooting.
Dead in the Water
Over the next three minutes and 41 seconds Utah turned the ball over five times and allowed the Beavers to go on a 14-5 run. With the score 56-50 it was anyone’s game. Under the four minute mark Utah was fighting to hang on to their eight point lead. Utah would make mistake after mistake, starting with Lorenzo Bonam trying to score over two Beaver defenders, David Collette fouling out of the game fighting for a rebound, then Kuzma traveling out on the perimeter. It was all falling apart.
Meanwhile for the Beavers, Thompson was making big play after big play. Cutting into the Utah defense, drawing fouls, knocking down free throws, penetrating and hitting a big three pointer. Utah had missed five straight shot until Kuzma finally drained a three pointer giving Utah a 67-64 lead with only 35 seconds on the clock. Thompson then faked to be calling a timeout, waited for the defense to relax and then drove to the hoop for a lay-in, cutting the lead 67-66 with 27 ticks left.
All Utah had to do was hit their free throws and they’d leave victorious. Except on the following inbounds play Sedrick Barefield failed to recognize Kuzma in front of him and held on to the ball too long, being whistled for a five second violation. As a gift from the gods, Oregon State would then have the ball under their own basket with the chance to get their first win.
Of course the ball would wind up in Thompson’s hands. At first the longer Kuzma stayed in his face, denying a clean look. Then a screen forced Bonam to switch on to Thompson. Thompson quickly went around Bonam for the go-ahead basket with 10.6 remaining. In a last ditch effort, Bonam then ignored his teammates and tried to force the issue himself, the result, a travel violation. Utah discovered a different way in which they could lose a close game.
Utah will only have one game next week and that will be against their geographic rival, The Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado sits at 16-12 (6-9) on the season and are one spot behind Utah in the conference standings. The game will tip off from Boulder late Thursday night at 9:00 PM MT and can be seen on ESPNU.