SALT LAKE CITY — Something had to give.
Utah’s basketball team entered Saturday’s high-profile game having not lost at the Huntsman Center during the first two months of the season and for eight straight games overall.
The sixth-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack, meanwhile, came into the contest having gone undefeated in their first 12 games.
Unfortunately for the Utes, they were the ones who did the holiday-time giving on this afternoon.
With Nevada’s 86-71 victory, the Wolf Pack improved to 13-0 and became the first opposing team to leave the Utes’ arena with smiles and a positive result since last season.
Despite playing a terrific first half, Utah fell to 6-6 after losing for the first time in six home games this year.
Thanks to a strong second half, Nevada went undefeated in nonconference play for the first time since the MWC school began playing Division I basketball in 1969.
“I thought we were lackadaisical at the start of the second half,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I don’t know if we watch too many NBA games, but that’s one the area’s that’s on me as a coach. But I thought we fueled their fire to start the second half by turning the ball over.”
Utah, which had won two games in a row, went into the locker room trailing by just one, 38-37. The Pac-12 club was still in the thick of it for a while into the second half after Sedrick Barefield hit one of his six 3-pointers on the day to cut Nevada’s lead to 42-40.
And then, well, something gave.
The Wolf Pack used their outstanding athleticism and experience to take the game over with a 9-0 run. Barefield hit another 3 to stop the damage temporarily, but Caleb Martin hit a jumper on the next possession to put the visitors up by double digits at 53-43, just three minutes after it was a two-point game.
Utah fought back with six straight points, but Jazz Johnson answered a Barefield triple with a deep shot of his own to spark a game-changing 15-4 spurt for Nevada.
“They hit some tough shots,” Barefield said. “Martin hit some tough shots and it was definitely tough on us. We just kept fighting and fighting, but turnovers and missed rebounds, they hurt us.”
Martin finished with 33 points for Nevada, including 25 in the pivotal second half. As Barefield noted, the Wolf Pack were also boosted by the Utes’ miscues, scoring 20 points off of 18 Utah turnovers.
“They have, what, five fifth-year guys on the court? A lot of experience, a lot of physicality,” Barefield said. “And then they hit tough shots, Martin. You don’t see that every single game, so that was hard to defend.”
Barefield was also hard to defend. The senior guard hit 10 of 15 shots to finish with a season-high 33 points. He was happy to hit the looks, but wasn’t thrilled that his offensive explosion came in a loss.
Krystkowiak also had some constructive criticism for him after the setback.
“It was a great line, scoring-wise, percentages, took some big shots, had some hands in his face,” Krystkowiak added. “But if you look at his assist line, it was zero, and he had five turnovers. I’m not beating the guy up, because he was a bright spot for us, but the turnovers can be super costly.”
Donnie Tillman (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Timmy Allen (11) were the only other Utes in double figures. Jordan Caroline added 17 points with 12 rebounds for Nevada.
Utah begins its Pac-12 schedule next week down south against Arizona State (Thursday) and Arizona (Saturday).
“We definitely had a rough start (to preseason),” Barefield said. “But we grew as the preseason went on.”