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Utes come close, but can't pull off another win over a nationally-ranked team in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Utah basketball team was trying to do something it had never done in its 110-year history — defeat nationally ranked opponents in back-to-back games.

The Utes took care of step one with an overtime victory over No. 21 Arizona State Thursday night, and they they came this close to pulling off a second win Saturday. However, this time it didn’t go their way in a heartbreaking 74-73 loss to No. 11-ranked Arizona at McKale Center.

For the second straight game in Arizona, the Utes had fought back from a double-digit deficit and given themselves a chance to win in the final seconds. Utah was down four with less than 10 seconds to play when Justin Bibbins sank a 3-pointer from the left corner and then drew on offensive foul on Arizona’s Allonzo Trier on the inbounds.

With the ball under their own basket with 4.3 seconds to play, the Utes set up a play, and Tyler Rawson got the ball into freshman Donnie Tillman right under the basket as planned. However, Tillman ended up too far under the basket, and his wild, left-handed shot didn’t come close as the Wildcats held on for the victory.

“It was a tough one to lose, no doubt about it,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It was a hell of an effort by our guys to keep fighting and making plays. This whole weekend was two really good basketball teams and it was unfortunate anybody had to lose.”

Ute junior guard Sedric Barefield might have had his best game as a Ute as he finished with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 8 of 8 from the line as he nearly single-handedly kept the Utes in the game.

Arizona shot a season-high 64.5 percent from the field, led by 7-foot center Dusan Ristic, who scored a career-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range. Allonzo Trier scored 16, and Deandre Ayton added 15 for Arizona.

“Dusan, I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “Today was his day, and we needed him to have a big game and he did.”

The Utes, who dropped to 5-5 in Pac-12 play and 13-8 on the season, were trying to win here for the first time in 30 years and the first time since joining the Pac-12 seven years ago.

Like they did in Tempe two nights earlier, the Utes clawed their way back into the game after it looked like they might get blown out of the gym, falling behind by 10 in the opening minutes of the contest.

The Wildcats hit their first six shots of the game to take a quick 14-4 lead and led 24-12 midway through the first half. Then the Utes started chipping away behind the play of Barefield and David Collette, who bounced back from a tough game Thursday night and finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two steals.

When Bibbins hit two of three free throws with 2:51 left, the Utes closed the gap to three at 34-31. Then Ristic sank his first 3-point shot of season from out top and added a 15-footer and the Wildcats finished the half on a 9-2 run to take a 43-33 halftime lead.

In the second half, Arizona pushed the lead to 13 on several occasions and still led by 10 at 65-55 with under nine minutes left. That’s when the Utes ran off 11 straight points with Rawson and Parker Van Dyke hitting back-to-back 3-pointers during the rally.

A jumper by Ristic, followed by a 3-pointer gave the Wildcats a 72-68 lead at the 1:40 mark, but Barefield answered with a drive up the middle. Ristic made it a four-point game again, and Bibbins sank his first field goal of the night with six seconds left to give the Utes a chance.

He ran over and forced an offensive foul on Trier, giving the Utes their final chance. After Tillman’s shot missed, the Utes fouled Keanu Pinder with 0.3 seconds left, and, after his miss, the Utes didn’t have a chance for a last-second heave.

The Utes will return home Sunday and will get ready to take on Colorado Friday night in Boulder. Their next home game is Feb. 8 against Stanford.