LAS VEGAS — Jordan Loveridge didn’t hesitate. The sophomore put action to words that he said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had been harping on before Wednesday’s Pac-12 tournament opener against Washington. It was all about making extra passes.
“We had a few chances to do it early in the game, but we passed those chances up,” Loveridge said after he assisted on a pivotal 3-pointer by Dakarai Tucker with 38 seconds remaining that broke a tie and lifted the Utes to a 67-61 victory over the Huskies. “I got the ball swung to me. I had an OK shot, but Dakarai just had a better shot.”
Krystkowiak’s pregame comments about having confidence in each other to hit shots was still fresh in his mind.
“Everyone just had confidence in Dakarai. He’s one of the best shooters on our team,” Loveridge explained. “So when I swung him the ball I felt like no matter what it was going in.”
It did and suddenly Utah was up 63-60. The Utes outscored the Huskies 4-1 over the balance of the game — scoring on a pair of free throws by both Brandon Taylor and Dallin Bachynski — to advance into Thursday’s quarterfinals against top-seeded Arizona (1:06 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
Krystkowiak thought the pass from Loveridge to Tucker was really fitting and on cue for his team.
“Obviously, moving forward we’ll need to do it collectively. We don’t have individual players,” Krystkowiak said. “I think the strength of our team has been the team and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
Delon Wright scored 15 points and Loveridge added 13 to lead a balanced attack for the Utes. The duo also combined for 16 rebounds.
The game, though, was aptly described by Krystkowiak as “kind of a tale of two halves.”
Utah reeled off nine straight points early en route to building a lead as large as 12 in the first half. The Utes held a 34-24 advantage at halftime but found themselves in a fierce battle featuring nine lead changes and seven ties by game’s end.
Washington took a 59-58 lead on a three-point play by Desmond Simmons with 1:24 remaining. Loveridge then made two foul shots for Utah before Simmons knotted the score again on a free throw with 1:08 left to play. The latter was followed by Tucker’s dramatic shot from the corner.
“It was going to be tough no matter what. They were going to make a run just because it’s win or go home,” Loveridge said. “ ... So we just had to gather ourselves after they made their run, play some defense and get some stops.”
And put some points on the board.
“We didn’t shy away from the pressure and stepped up,” said guard Brandon Taylor. “I thought we did a good job of staying loose and keeping calm. We owned the moment and made some key plays at the end of the game.”
Even so, Taylor was somewhat subdued in the locker room. He acknowledged it was fun to win. However, he chalked it up as one down and several more to go.
“We’re on a mission and I don’t really feel like celebrating to be honest with you,” Taylor said. “I don’t feel like our mission is nearly finished, but we made a stepping stone. We made that first step.”
The next one will be a little bigger. Arizona is ranked fourth in the nation.
“We should come out fighting and be ready to compete against a really good basketball team. There are a lot of Arizona fans that come. It’s the school, I think, that travels as well as anybody,” Krystkowiak said. “There will be a lot of anticipation for it — and here we are — as we have been in previous games against them, the underdog.
“So I like that element. I don’t have nearly the nervous feeling that I maybe had leading into this game,” he continued. “And hopefully our guys are feeling the same thing.”
No. 8 Utah (21-10, 9-9) vs. No. 1 Arizona (28-3, 15-3)
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Thursday, 1:06 p.m. (MT)
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: 700 AM