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Utah made a tearful exit from the NCAA tournament with loss to Gonzaga

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I definitely feel overwhelmed, you know, because I don’t think any of us pictured it like this. – Senior guard Brandon Taylor

DENVER — Utah’s 82-59 loss to Gonzaga was followed by a flood of emotions. The surprisingly lopsided setback left the Utes in tears, which flowed freely after the second-round ouster from the NCAA tournament.

“I just feel so much,” said senior guard Brandon Taylor. “I definitely feel overwhelmed, you know, because I don’t think any of us pictured it like this.”

Capping a 27-9 campaign with a spanking that hurt — a lot.

So much so, in fact, that Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak noted that his sons were crying in the hallway outside the locker room after the season-ending loss in the Pepsi Center.

Krystkowiak said the cool thing about sports is the incredible highs you feel when things go well and the incredible lows when they don’t.

“I think there’s a lot of life lessons in between,” he explained. “I just feel really blessed to be involved with that still and the juices are flowing and helping kids grow up.”

The Utes, he continued, maximized their potential. They finished second in the Pac-12 and won an NCAA tournament game for the second consecutive year.

Even so, Krystkowiak acknowledged that “this isn’t the way we wanted to finish the season.”

Gonzaga overpowered Utah in a variety of ways. The Bulldogs shot 55.7 percent from the field, scored 20 points off of turnovers by the Utes and finished with a 34-24 rebounding advantage. They made eight 3-pointers in the pivotal first half.

Generally speaking, Krystkowiak said there were a lot of mental breakdowns

“A lot of it was self-inflicted stuff,” he added.

Krystkowiak also praised Gonzaga (28-7) for being a really good team. Eric McClellan finished with a game-high 22 points. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer added 19 and 17, respectively. Sabonis also had 10 rebounds in the much-ballyhooed battle against Utah big man Jakob Poeltl. The 7-foot sophomore from Austria wound up with a season-low five points and four rebounds in 24 minutes of action for the Utes.

“I’m not going to make excuses for anything that took place. But I know Jakob tweaked his ankle pretty good,” Krystkowiak said. “ . . . Sabonis got the best of Jakob in the situation.”

Sabonis finished four offensive rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block as Gonzaga advanced to the Sweet 16,

“He’s really good,” said Utah forward Jordan Loveridge. “We knew he was one of the best bigs in the country and he definitely played like that tonight.”

It proved to be a rough outing for the 13th-ranked Utes. They trailed by as many as 30 points in a game that the Bulldogs held an advantage in for nearly 39 minutes. There were just two lead changes and one tie.

“It’s one of the toughest games I ever played. They played outstanding tonight. They made their shots,” said Poeltl, who plans to officially decide whether or not he’ll enter the NBA draft in the next few days or weeks. “We had a couple of breakdowns. Ii was a tough game for us. The fact that it could be my last game here just makes it even harder.”

The thought, therefore, added to the tearful postgame scene as reality took root. Senior contributors Loveridge, Taylor and Dakarai Tucker completed their Utah careers in the game.

“The emotion we’re feeling is because it’s over for some of these guys,” Krytskowiak said. “It is that time of year where the best team wins. It’s a one-game situation.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer