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Top 10 2014-15 Storylines: #2 Runnin' Utes Sweet 16 Run

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2014-2015 basketball season began for Utah, the goal was a return to the NCAA Tournament for the Runnin' Utes. The knock on Utah the previous season was the lack of quality out of conference opponents on their schedule. That is precisely what kept them out of the NCAA Tournament, and a loss at St Mary's in the NIT ended their season. Coach Larry Krystkowiak was determined not to let that happen the following year. Utah went from having one of the softest schedules one season, to one of the most difficult in 2014-15.

Utah began the season with a number of wins, with the lone blemish being a four-point loss at a ranked San Diego State. The other lesser opponents on the schedule were soundly defeated by the Utes, which was exactly what a team on the rise should do. That was something the Utes failed to do in previous seasons, and they struggled with teams that one would think they would certainly defeat.

A victory over a top-10 Wichita State team in the Huntsman Center showed the country that Utah Basketball was on it's way back, and were going to be a force to be reckoned with in college basketball once again. A date with Kansas in Kansas City initially looked to be a return to reality for the Utes, and the Jayhawks began to blow out the Utes. Kansas dominated Utah initially on the supposed neutral floor. Right before the end of the first half, Delon Wright's slam dunk signaled that the Runnin' Utes were about to go on a run. Utah's valiant effort and comeback fell just three points short 63-60.

The Utes would not taste defeat again for over a month when a loss at Arizona took a little wind out of the Utes sails. The Utes played well throughout the Pac 12 Conference games, but then lost three of their final five games. Utah took care of Stanford in their first game of the Pac 12 Tournament, but a loss in the next round to Oregon appeared to kill a lot of the Runnin' Utes  momentum. Despite their loss in the tournament, Utah was confident that their strength of schedule would easily get them in the NCAA's field of 68 this year.

Utah received a 5-seed in the South Region, and a match up with 12-seed Stephen F Austin. Many so-called experts predicted that the 12-seed SFA would be taking down the Utes in the first round. They had seen Utah's roller coaster finish to the season, and expected Utah's return to the NCAA Tournament to be a short one. Utah controlled the game versus the pesky Southland Conference team, and prevailed 57-50.

With SFA out of the way, many predicted Utah to come out on top versus the 4-seed Georgetown Hoyas, who had defeated the Big Sky Champion Eastern Washington 84-74 in the first round.  Georgetown took control of the game from the tip, but the Utes weren't rattled, and went on an 11-0 run, and it was all tied up at 32 at the half. Utah continued to push that lead, and every time the Hoyas would cut into the lead, Utah would answer right back. Utah would eventually pull away with good play all around and some excellent three point shooting by Brandon Taylor. The Utes prevailed 75-64.

Utah was then paired up with the 1-seed Duke in the Sweet 16, and the game plan defensively was to shut down Jahlil Okafor, which Utah did. What they didn't count on was the hot shooting of Justice Winslow, who led Duke with 21 points. What also hurt the Utes, was Delon Wright picking up a phantom third foul in the first half, which sent him to the bench as the Blue Devils took a 27-22 lead into half time. Delon Wright finished his final game for Utah with only 10 points, and the Utes were unable to come back and fell 63-57 to the eventual National Champions.

The run deep into the NCAA tournament signaled that Coach Kystkowiak had brought Utah back from the ashes. The team that was in shambles only years before, had not only once again returned to the Tournament, but played well against the best team in the land. This will most likely will springboard Utah to continued success in the Pac 12, and frequent return visits to the Tournament where this historical basketball powerhouse belongs.