SALT LAKE CITY — From "The Pit" to nearly the pits.
Three days after a dramatic win at New Mexico, the Utah Utes almost fell lower than a snake's belly against last-place TCU. They needed some late heroics to edge the Horned Frogs 50-48 in the Huntsman Center.
On a night when he become Utah's career shot blocks leader, junior center David Foster made a game-saving swat with three seconds remaining. He was prime position to stop a drive to the basket by TCU's Hank Thorns. Utah teammate Chris Hines secured the deflection as the Utes avoided what would have been an embarrassing loss. The Horned Frogs are now just 1-13 in Mountain West Conference play and have lost 11 straight games.
Utah guard Josh Watkins, who finished with a team-high 14 points, said the Utes didn't suffer a letdown from the excitement in Albuquerque. It was just a bad shooting night and a game requiring 40 minutes of defense.
"It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it," Watkins explained. "It's a step up. We showed toughness at the end."
Forward Will Clyburn's free throw with 9.5 seconds remaining broke a 48-48 tie. TCU rebounded a miss that followed to set up the potential game-winning shot by Thorns.
Foster, who had blocked two shots earlier in the game to break Luke Nevill's school record of 205 for a career, was surprised Thorns took it to him.
"I was shocked. He had the same play against (Jason) Washburn earlier in the game so I could kind of guess that he would try to do the same thing," Foster said. "But I just had to hold my ground and not jump. They didn't call a foul — a clean block — and I was just grateful Hines was right there to dig it out."
So, too, were the Utes. Hines capped all scoring with a foul shot as they improved to 13-15 overall and 6-8 in the MWC.
"I thought our defense was awesome. That's a difficult team to guard," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "I thought we competed at the defensive end."
TCU was just 17-of-52 from the field. Utah made six steals and blocked four shots.
The Utes needed all of it on a poor night offensively. They wound up shooting just 32 percent from the field.
"I thought we missed a lot of plays at the rim," Boylen said. "I thought we missed a lot of open shots."
Watkins and freshman J.J. O'Brien (13) were the only Utah players to score in double-figures. Clyburn, the Utes' scoring and rebounding leader, added seven off the bench. He missed the New Mexico game because of a sore heel.
TCU led 20-19 after a cold-shooting first half for both teams. Each squad made just eight baskets. The Horned Frogs, however, were just a tad warmer. They did so in 25 attempts, while the Utes needed 28.
Boylen called it a "Big Ten pace" with all the grinding and half-court offense.
The lead changed hands only two times in the first half, the last on a 3-pointer by TCU's Hank Thorns with 50 seconds remaining.
By the time the game was complete, there were 11 lead switches as things went down to the wire.
"I don't know how good we played," Boylen said. "But I thought we played good enough to win and that's the key."
The Utes have a bye this weekend before closing out the regular season with games at Colorado State on March 2 and a home date with UNLV on March 5.
"We're going to take some days off and we're going to try to get our lets back a little bit," Boylen said. "Not to sound soft, but I think the New Mexico game took a lot out of us."