It was a 4/5 matchup, exactly what the seeding would predict. But Utah showed Georgetown that five beats four, as five Utes scored in double figures (to four for the Hoyas), and the Pac-12 Utes won 75-64.
The game, the first meeting between the two teams, began in the worst possible way for the Utes, as the Hoyas got hot from three-point range. Georgetown hit five of their first seven shots from deep. The Georgetown outside shooting helped the Big East team jump out to a 21-10 lead, and the Utes looked like they were on the ropes. It would have been understandable for Utah to simply be overwhelmed by a talented higher seed after getting punched in the mouth not long after the opening tip. But... that's not the kind of team Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak puts on the floor.
"I told our guys in the time out, don't panic," Krystkowiak said. "It was all based on the idea that we get stops. When threes start going in, the game is pretty darn easy."
The Utes battled back, with a 14-2 run of their own to take a 24-23 lead, powered by three-pointers from forward Dakarai Tucker and point guard Brandon Taylor. From there, both teams battled to a 32-32 tied to end the first period. Utah had a chance to grab the lead at the break, but Taylor slipped with the clock winding down and had to heave up an off-balance, buzzer-beating three which didn't draw iron.
"I think that's the way basketball goes," senior guard Delon Wright said of getting down early. "If you're hot in the first half, you're not going to shoot so well in the second half. We played out of it."
Taylor heated up in the second half to lead Utah with 14 points (on 4-of-8 from three-point range), adding five assists and a steal.
"It's surreal. We worked so hard in the summer. It's an amazing feeling. It just feels good," Taylor said afterward. "I knew we were due at the beginning of the season. I just didn't know how it would play out. We put the work in at the beginning of the season. We put the work in. Now to experience it... I'm just lost for words, honestly."
Wright pitched in with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one big block on Georgetown guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera to help seal the game. Wright also shot 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
"I try not to think about it being my last game," Wright said about the single elimination format of the tournament. "[When we got down] I have faith we're going to come out and play better in the second half, which we did, and we got the win."
"[The Sweet Sixteen] means a lot. If [I'd left for the NBA], I wouldn't have gotten this opportunity to come back & go to the NCAA tournament. I couldn't be more happy with the teams' success."
Wright's defense (as the senior played 37 minutes of the game) helped hold Georgetown leading scorer D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera 4.3 points below his 16.3 average. Smith-Rivera shot just 6-of-15 from the floor (40 percent), 0-of-7 from behind the three-point arc.
The Teutonic Titan Jakob Poeltl had another nice game, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, 2-of-3 from the free throw line. The 7-foot Austrian is now shooting 12-of-13 (92.3 percent) in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. However, Utah's main big had just one rebound, one block, and four fouls, which limited his playing time in the second half. Many of those fouls came in limiting Georgetown center Joshua Smith to 2.8 points below his season average.
"It is, obviously, pretty hard," Poeltl said about guarding Smith. "He's a big dude, and he's hard to move him around. I tried to do my best and use my advantages, my quickness. I just tried to do my best."
Georgetown's starters outplayed Utah's starters 62-52, but the Utes' superior depth out-scored the Hoyas' bench 23-2. Guard/forward Dakarai Tucker put up 11 points and five rebounds, including one offensive board. Dallin Bachynski, in support of the foul-plagued Poeltl, added nine points and eight rebounds. And freshman forward Kyle Kuzma, who has been a bit lost in the late season rotation, stepped in to hit his only attempted three-pointer. And late in the game, it was Bachynski and Tucker knocking down free throws to help the starters polish off the higher seed.
After the initial Georgetown punch (5-of-7 from three-point range), Utah turned up the defensive pressure. The Hoyas made just four of their next 18 attempted threes, which at 36 percent shooting is actually higher than their season average from downtown. But Utah was more efficient.
The Utes ended the game shooting 57.9 percent from the field, 57.1 from behind the arc. While Utah shot 11 fewer threes than Georgetown, they made more of those they did take (8-of-14). The Runnin' Utes logged 22 made baskets and 12 assists as a team.
Utah moves on to Houston to take on the winner of the Duke/San Diego State game. Three years after the worst record in Utah basketball history, Krystkowiak has led his team to 26 wins and a berth in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
"The way I've got it figured out, it's about 1,500 days," Krystkowiak said about the length of time between that first season and now. "From the very first day, I was asked how many games is going to be the goal. The year that we won six games, we approached every practice, prepared as though we were going to win a championship. You fix what is broken, and then you wake up the next morning and do it again."
Utah gets to wake up Sunday morning in the Sweet Sixteen, the program's first since national player of the year Andrew Bogut was in a Utes uniform in 2005. Krystkowiak and his staff, after a historic program turnaround, have to fix what is broken and pack for Houston, Texas. Duke or San Diego State will be waiting.
"[We'll be] Getting back home & getting some rest first, taking care of our bodies," said Brandon Taylor regarding what's next. "Then going out and getting prepared for either San Diego State of Duke."
So far in the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the disrespected Pac-12 is 7-0. Only the 9-0 ACC is better. If Oregon wins on Sunday, one fourth of the Sweet Sixteen would come from the Pac-12. The Utes have also played four Sweet Sixteen teams this season (Wichita State, Kansas, UCLA, and Arizona), which makes theirs a pretty good schedule and probably highly underrated.
"It's good to see that everyone's doing well," Wright said. "I don't think everyone across the country respects the Pac-12 like they should be."
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Larry Krystowiak has done one of the best rebuilding jobs in a long long time. Somewhere Rick Majerus is wearing a sweater and smiling.</p>— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) <a href="https://twitter.com/SethDavisHoops/status/579464529437974528">March 22, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Video recap of tonight's <a href="https://twitter.com/Runnin_Utes">@Runnin_Utes</a> win! Headed to the Sweet 16 in Houston! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/goutes?src=hash">#goutes</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MarchMadness?src=hash">#MarchMadness</a> <a href="https://t.co/8WjcdHygZh">https://t.co/8WjcdHygZh</a></p>— Utah Athletics (@utahathletics) <a href="https://twitter.com/utahathletics/status/579499060723351552">March 22, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>