The no. 13 Utah Runnin' Utes (7-2) fell this afternoon 63-60 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. to the no. 10 Kansas Jayhawks (8-1). The Utes were down 21 points early in the second half and came all the way back, but they weren't able to cap the effort with a win, even after posting a 2-point lead, 55-53, with 4:39 left in the game.
"We just wanted to take it four minutes at a time," Utah point guard Delon Wright said. "We were on a run, we locked down on defense, and we played hard."
Wright led all scorers in the game with 23 points. He was key in Utah's run to take a 55-53 lead after being down 42-21, especially his thunderous dunk in traffic over three Kansas defenders. The 2-point lead was Utah's first since they led 17-16 in the first half. Kansas avoided their largest blown lead in school history (the largest is a 20-point blown lead against Arizona in 2003) with key free throws down the stretch. They made their final six free throws to ice the game.
Utah made another run to try to tie the game at the end, but Kansas switched their defense, doubling Wright whenever he drove and playing him tight outside the three-point line. With a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer, Utah couldn't get the ball into the hands of a perimeter shooter, and the game ended when Utah's freshman center Jakob Poeltl missed a three-pointer with scant seconds left.
"If you're going to blow a 21-point lead, yeah, I guess I liked the way we responded," said Kansas head coach Bill Self.
Kansas was led by 6-8 forward Perry Ellis with 14 points. Ellis gave Kansas the go-ahead basket to take a 57-55 lead. The Wooden Award candidate also had six rebounds, three assists, and two blocked shots.
"You've seen a million games. It's momentum," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Once you start getting on that wave a bit, you feel like you belong here. Just unfortunate it took us that long to wake up."
The Utes didn't have a double-figure scorer outside of Wright, although junior guard Brandon Taylor scored nine (on 3-of-9 shooting, 1-of-4 from three-point range), and Poeltl was held below his double-figure average with just eight points, though he pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and nearly blocked as many shots (3) himself as Kansas did as a team (4).
Utah shot well below it's season average, making just 21-of-54 shots, 38.9 percent, but for the third game in a row, the Utes really struggled behind the three-point line. Utah shot 4-of-19 from downtown, 21.1 percent. On the other hand, Krystkowiak's squad did shoot better from the free throw line, making 14-of-17 for 82.4 percent.
Utah's size helped them win the battle of the boards, 31-28. The most impressive stat was that the Utes had five more offensive rebounds, 12-7.
Next up for the Runnin' Utes is a Dec. 20 date (the same day as the football team's Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl game) with UNLV (5-2) in the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 9:30 p.m. MT. The Rebels have lost to the only two decent teams they've faced thus far, Utah's Pac-12 foes the Stanford Cardinal (89-60) and the Arizona State Sun Devils (77-55).