After virtually every game this season, Utah coach Rick Majerus was quick to criticize his team's abominable performance from the charity stripe. You must find something to harp on even in a 20-point shellacking.
Majerus continually said that sometime down the road, poor foul shooting would be the Utes' demise. That sometime wound up being Sunday afternoon's choke in The Pit.Go ahead, blame the officials; that's an easy thing to do. But if you want to know the real reason the Runnin' Utes are perfect no more, look at their 60-percent foul shooting. Majerus did.
"You've got to hit your free throws, that's evident in all basketball games," Ma-jerus said.
Utah missed 5 of 8 free throws in the final 5:30. Until that point the Utes had made 6 of 7 - interesting to note that a team averaging 25 foul shots a game only attempted seven in the first 35 minutes. Wait, that's blaming the refs.
Hanno Mottola and Andre Miller initiated Utah's downward spiral from the line. Within 45 seconds of each other, the two connected on short jumpers while being fouled, and both failed to convert the 3-point play.
Three possessions later, Hansen missed the front of a one-and-one with Utah leading 69-60. Not a big deal at the time.
The next time Miller stepped to the line, the once-comfortable lead was merely four.
A year ago, Ute fans would've dreaded seeing Miller in that situation during crunch time. But the days of 60-percent foul shooting for Miller are a distant memory. He's a 73-percent shooter this year, and he canned both shots, putting Utah up 73-67. Amazing what happens when you shoot 300 free throws a day during the summer.
Hansen again clanked the first of a one-and-one on Utah's next possession. On the Lobos' ensuing possession, Kenny Thomas showed the Utes how it's done, sinking a pair to give New Mexico its first lead of the afternoon.
The Utes had one final shot at redemption. Alex Jensen stood at the foul line after getting hacked on a layup attempt with 14.0 showing on the clock. The Pit was more chaotic at that moment than it likely was when Jimmy Valvano's boys upset heavily favored Houston for the 1983 national title.
Jensen made one of two shots to tie the game. But before saying it was an afterthought, that Royce Olney's 3-pointer would've negated a one-point lead as well as the tie, listen to Jensen.
"If I hit both of mine, it's probably a different situation coming down for Olney," Jensen said. Do you think Olney would've launched a 25-footer with his team trailing by one?
Nobody knows. But Utah doesn't really care. A win was theirs for the taking, and they left it on The Pit doorstep.