Facebook Twitter

Utes again fail to defend 3-pointer

SHARE Utes again fail to defend 3-pointer
Air Force's Jacob Burtschi puts up a 3-pointer with 18 second remaining. The successful shot was the Falcons' game-winner Saturday.

Air Force’s Jacob Burtschi puts up a 3-pointer with 18 second remaining. The successful shot was the Falcons’ game-winner Saturday.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

On a night the largest crowd of the year came out to see Andrew Bogut's number unfurled from the Huntsman Center rafters, Bogut's fellow Aussie, Luke Nevill, tried his darndest to lead Utah to a win over Air Force.

Nevill scored 21 points and made a big three-point play in the final minute to put the Utes ahead by two. But in a game eerily similar to Wednesday night's overtime loss to Colorado State, the Falcons hit a big 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds remaining and then watched the Utes look clueless in their last possession.

This time, the game didn't go into overtime as Jacob Burtschi's 3-pointer from the left angle with 18 seconds left gave the Falcons a 52-51 lead and eventually a victory.

The Utes had a chance to win the game themselves, but just like the last play of regulation Wednesday, Ute guard Johnnie Bryant dribbled around by himself before flinging up a poor shot. The fadeway 15-footer bounced off the rim with two seconds left and the Falcons ran out the clock.

Afterwards, Ute coach Ray Giacoletti didn't want to single out Bryant or Shaun Green, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 32.7 seconds left that could have almost iced the game for Utah.

Instead he blamed Utah's poor defense down the stretch.

"It wasn't the missed free throw or not making the extra pass on the last possession," he said. "It was not being able to get stops. I think we got one stop in the last six (possessions)."

The Utes had clawed back from a seven-point deficit midway through the second half and matched the Falcons basket for basket from the 7:32 mark to inside the final minute.

Finally after Nevill sank an inside shot and converted a free throw to make it 51-49 with 53 seconds left, the Utes got a stop when Matt McCraw missed a 15-footer.

On the Utes' possession, Green was fouled early. Even though Green has played the third most minutes on the team and was shooting 71.4 percent from the line, he had only attempted 14 free throws all season.

His shot bounced off the back of the iron, and the Falcons came down and ran a set to free Burtschi on the left angle.

"We talked about how you cannot give a three up," Giacoletti said. "That's two nights in a row we've done that."

The Utes still had 16 seconds left for a winning play. But just like Wednesday, the play looked like the Johnnie Bryant Show.

"We wanted to try to set a high ball screen, get penetration, let Luke roll and find somebody to kick to," Giacoletti said, which is basically the same thing he wanted the Utes to do Wednesday.

"Shaun appeared to be open, but we didn't make that decision."

Instead it was Bryant dribbling, dribbling and dribbling before finally firing up a shot.

"As a player, especially a point guard, you want to be the guy to make a play," Bryant said. "I really didn't have anybody to pass to and you have to get a shot up."

For the second straight game, Nevill didn't get a chance for a late shot or a chance to get fouled.

"I would have liked it," Nevill said. "But I can't dribble up the court myself. It's a team sport and it was a team decision."

The Falcons led most of the first half, although the Utes had brief leads at 12-11 and 15-13. The game was tied at 19 before the Falcons hit two baskets in the final 1:22 to take a 24-19 halftime lead.

The Falcons increased their lead to 36-29 with 10:49 left, but the Utes came back to tie the game at 36 and stay with the Falcons until the final seconds.

Nevill, who also had eight rebounds, was the only Ute to score in double figures. Bryant finished with nine and Bryant Markson scored just seven, making all three of his shot attempts.

Burtschi led the Falcons (21-5, 9-4) with 18 points, while center John Frye had 17 points, his third best output of the season.

He had made just two 3-pointers all season but made three of five 3-point shots Saturday.

The loss marks the first time a Utah team has lost as many as five home games in a season since 1988-89, when the Utes finished 11-7 at home.

Now 12-12 overall and 5-8 in the Mountain West Conference, the Utes head out on the road for a game against UNLV on Wednesday night and then get a week off before playing at TCU the following Wednesday.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com