The No. 22 Utah Utes kept their hopes for the Pac-12 title alive with a 70-64 home win over the No. 9 Arizona Wildcats, who have now lost two straight.
Utah guard Brandon Taylor sank a game-clinching three-pointer with 40 seconds remaining to give the Utes a five-point edge. Taylor secured a huge rebound just prior on a missed three-pointer by teammate Jordan Loveridge that reset the shot clock and helped the Utes burn time.
Taylor’s crossover before nailing the dagger was equally as impressive as the shot itself, as Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated alluded:
Brandon Taylor breakin ankles!!— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 27, 2016
Here is a look at the play, courtesy of SB Nation CBB:
Arizona guard Gabe York launched a failed three on the ensuing possession, and Utah big man Jakob Poeltl hauled in the rebound with 30 seconds remaining, drawing an immediate foul that sent him to the free-throw line.
Taylor, a senior, finished with 19 points—his second-highest total this season—including 15 in the second half. He was 7-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 on three-pointers.
He’s averaging just 9.2 points and 4.0 assists per game, but he was arguably the best player on the court in the second half Saturday.
Mike Schmitz of The Vertical admired the style of play of the 5’10”, 170-pound speedster:
Have to love Brandon Taylor. Smallest dude on the court most nights but makes big shot after big shot. Stones.— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) February 27, 2016
As Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com noted, Taylor is one of many on the strong supporting cast to Poeltl, who finished 6-of-9 for 14 points with 10 rebounds:
Over the past month, the Utah Utes have looked like a Top 10 team. Up 11 at half over Arizona. This team is more than just Jakob Poeltl.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) February 27, 2016
The Utes were on the verge of blowing an 11-point halftime lead, as Arizona crept its way back and reclaimed the lead seven minutes into the final period. York hit his only three to give the Wildcats a 49-47 edge as one of 18 lead changes throughout Saturday’s affair.
But it was freshman standout Allonzo Trier who led the charge, finishing with 23 points—the most in his six games back after a one-month hiatus due to a broken hand.
Anthony Gimino of Tucson News Now noted Trier clearly wanted to be the team leader Saturday:
Allonzo Trier wants to be the alpha male on this Arizona team.— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) February 27, 2016
Arizona, who started the season 13-1, hasn’t been able to maintain its dominance since entering Pac-12 play. The Wildcats were eliminated from contention for the regular-season conference title with Saturday’s loss and will set their sights on the postseason tournament.
But Utah, with just one game remaining against the Colorado Buffaloes, could claim the crown with some help from the Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans, who all play the first-place Oregon Ducks before the regular season ends next Saturday.
Utah has now won 11 of its last 13, including six straight, and trails the No. 13 Ducks by a game in the standings. But the Utes lost both of their regular-season contests against Oregon, which could be a factor in tie-breaking scenarios.
Once thought a Final Four favorite, Arizona doesn’t even have the conviction of head coach Sean Miller, per ZonaZealots:
"It's not easy to say this, this team at Arizona has a ceiling, we've not been a team that's made those plays very often." Miller— ZonaZealots Go Cats! (@ZonaZealots) February 27, 2016
Utah hadn’t beaten Arizona since it joined the Pac-12. In fact, the last time the Utes were victorious over the Wildcats was during its 1998 run to the Final Four, when Taylor was just four years old.
Taylor said finally beating Arizona in his final season was all the more sweet, per Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune:
BT on the win: It took me four years, but better late than never.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 27, 2016
The point guard also elaborated on his pivotal crossover that led to the game-clinching three-pointer:
BT about his 3-pointer: I was just going to take the open shot. As soon as he slipped, I was gonna take it.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 27, 2016
Utah won the turnover battle, 10-8, which head coach Larry Krystkowiak said was pivotal, per Goon:
Larry K on how he handled early 2nd half turnovers: "Well I threatened to chop off their fingers ... no we just talked about it."— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 27, 2016
Larry K: You can't give them turnovers. They're too good already. But we kind of locked in.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 27, 2016
Utah is clearly building momentum at the right time with March Madness on the horizon.