As I think many of us would have predicted before the game, the Utes were just outmanned in a matchup against Kentucky on the road, where they lost 88-61. With that said, the Utes did show some heart throughout much of this game, before Kentucky really buried them with a late run.
The Utes played really well early on in the game, holding a lead and keeping UK within arms reach for much of the opening half. The ‘Cats did build big leads throughout the game, but Utah would find a way to battle back and cut those loads down to single digits time and again. Things snowballed a bit for the Utes going from the end of the first half, where Utah scored but quickly allowed a long three before the buzzer sounded to give UK a 14 point lead. The Utes did cut the lead back to nine after falling down by 20 about half way through the second half. It did feel like a bit of cat and mouse for much of the game, but the Utes showed well for about 30 or so of the minutes before UK just ran away and blew the doors off Utah. One giant thing that really did the Utes in was their turnovers, they had 18 of them. When you are outmanned on the road, you can’t give away the ball 18 times. These big turnover games have been an issue for the Utes this season, and the fact that they hung around as long as they did giving away the ball as much as they did is a surprise to me. The Utes only had 12 assists, and that negative assist to turnover ratio is a losing combination — especially when UK only gave the ball away six times.
Utah freshman Both Gach played his best game dropping 22 points, and really kept the Utes in the game for much of the contest. Things fell apart for the Utes a bit when he rolled his ankle and had to come out of the game. Gach has shown some flashes of serious potential so far this season, but Saturday’s effort should really get the Utes excited. Jayce Johnson played well too in Rupp Arena with his 11 points, which gave the Utes a nice shot in the arm. Really, outside of those two, the Utes need a lot more help. Donnie Tillman only had three points, and he needs to be a double figure scorer for this team for them to be successful. Timmy Allen had an ok day with seven, but he needs to continue to improve too. He’s an important piece to this Utah puzzle. Sedrick Barefield wasn’t good with four points, and Charles Jones continues to struggle as he put up a goose egg. I know this, Utah can’t have Jayce Johnson being the second leading scorer for this team, they need more out of the rest of the wings and points guards.
On defense the Utes were pretty rough, as UK shot 58% on the game and 57% from deep. The Wildcats freshman Keldon Johnson really lit them up going 6 of 7 from downtown. Utah was only 7 of 23 on their end from beyond the arc. I figured Utah would struggle with keeping UK from shooting well at home, but 12 of 21 from downtown is higher than I expected.
There’s no way around it, the Utes got blown out, but even in the blowout I saw some development from guys like Gach, and I saw some fight in this team — they were just clearly outmatched. They just need to find a way to constantly put the ball in the hoop (cue Jim Boylen’s comments). Going five minutes without a bucket will due the Utes in against most teams. Strangely enough, I feel better after this game than I did the BYU loss. This team has a long way to go, but maybe, just maybe a guy like Gach can build upon this and give the team the leader they are so desperately needing.
Utah will have a chance to bounce back with a game Monday night at the Huntsman Center against Florida A&M.