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Utah basketball: Utes thrashed by Zags, knocked out of NCAA tourney

DENVER — Things didn't turn out so sweet for the Utah Utes. In fact, the second round of the NCAA Tournament wound up being quite sour.

Instead of making a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, the Utes were ousted by Gonzaga, dropping an 82-59 decision to the Bulldogs Saturday at the Pepsi Center.

"It was an egg. We laid an egg tonight but Gonzaga is a really good team," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "It's not how we wanted it to finish but 27 wins with our squad and making improvements, I'm really proud of them."

For all intents and purposes, the outcome materialized quickly.

Gonzaga led 44-29 at halftime. After an early exchange of leads and a tie, the Bulldogs pulled away with a 19-10 run. By the time it was over, they had grabbed five offensive rebounds and forced four turnovers.

Utah center Jakob Poeltl was plagued by foul trouble and didn't score his first basket until 11:16 remained in the half. It ushered in a comeback bid that eventually cut the deficit to 24-22.

However, Gonzaga never relinquished the lead and outscored Utah 20-7 over the balance of the half. The Utes failed to score from the field over the final 2:29 as the Bulldogs went on to claim a pair of 15-point advantages before the intermission.

Domantas Sabonis paced the effort with 11 points and eight rebounds in the decisive first half. Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McClellan scored 11 and 10, respectively.

Utah turned the ball over nine times over the first 20 minutes, leading to 15 points for Gonzaga. The Utes were outrebounded 18-13 and Poeltl was limited to five points and two rebounds in nine minutes of action. He had two fouls.

Kyle Kuzma had 11 points in the half, but starters Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor were scoreless.

Gonzaga came out firing again when play resumed. The Bulldogs quickly extended their lead to 53-31. They held the Utes to just two free throws during the stretch.

Utah ended a lengthy field-goal drought over the first and second halves on a 3-pointer by Dakarai Tucker with 14:47 left to play. It was the Utes' first basket in a span of 7:42.

The damage was more than done at that point. Utah's bid for a 17th trip to the Sweet 16 fell by the wayside as the 11th-seeded Bulldogs (28-7) eliminated the third-seeded Utes (27-9) in a tournament where lower seeds have already prevailed 14 times.

Gonzaga advances to next week's Midwest Regional at the United Center in Chicago. The Bulldogs will take on the winner of Sunday's second-round game between Middle Tennessee State and Syracuse on Friday.

"Well, wow, it was just a tremendous effort by my guys," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

Utah didn't put up much resistance in the battle for a trip to the Windy City. The 13th-ranked Utes were simply blown away, in somewhat similar fashion to their 88-57 setback to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game a week earlier.

Gonzaga led by as many as 30 at one point late in the second half. McClellan led all scorers with 22 at game's end. Sabonis and Wiltjer had 19 and 17 points, respectively.

Kuzma topped the Utes with 15, while Lorenzo Bonam chipped in 12.

"Gonzaga did some great things tonight and they hit shots," Loveridge said. "It's tough when a team hits shots."

The Bulldogs shot 55.7 percent from the field and made nine 3-pointers. Utah, meanwhile, connected on only 42.3 percent of its shots. The Utes wound up getting outrebounded 34-24 and finished with 13 turnovers.

Taylor said that Gonzaga displayed an elite performance.

"They were obviously the better team," he added. "They were the better team."

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer