2016 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament: 'Bailouts' help Utah overcome USC
LAS VEGAS – Utah knew USC would get creative trying to stop Pac-12 Player of the Year Jakob Poeltl, so his teammates were prepared to play off the Utes' star center. Coach Larry Krystkowiak wanted Poeltl's teammates to give him more “bailouts.”
Over the last few games, Krystkowiak noticed the Utes standing and watching Poeltl. He told the Utes to be more aware – cut, or be “locked and loaded” to shoot kickouts on the perimeter.
The Utes held off the Trojans 80-72 behind sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma's 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting, advancing to face the winner of California and Oregon State in the semifinals of this Pac-12 Tournament. Kuzma's individual performance was the microcosm of the Coach K way: Play off Poeltl, trust your teammates, and results will follow.
“Me and coach had a meeting and we just discussed what I said: playing hard and getting back to the basics a little bit. Making 'we' plays instead of 'me' plays,” Kuzma said.
Kuzma's three-pointer with 2:36 left and point guard Brandon Taylor's 30-footer a minute later each turned Utah's slim lead from one to two possessions.
“Certainly I'm not going to compare him to Steph Curry, but if there's one guy on our team that has that deep range ...” Krystkowiak said, succumbing to temptation. “It was a big three that he hit, big three that Kyle hit.”
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In loss, the Trojans also felt those two triples defined a hard-fought game.
"We were a little unlucky," USC coach Andy Enfield said. "Give them credit. Taylor hit a 30-footer, a one-possession game with two minutes left, and then Kuzma came down, and he's not a three-point shooter and he hit a three the next possession and that was the difference in the game."
That's not to say Poeltl wasn't still impactful. The 7-foot sophomore scored 14 points, hitting 5-of-7 shots. He added two blocks and four assists.
Meanwhile, Utah's defense held the Trojans to 42 percent shooting. Even though the Utes hit 60 percent themselves, USC's 19 more field goal attempts and five total turnovers led to just one less make compared to Utah, equalizing the game.
So it came down to stops down the stretch. The Utes' team defense got the job done.
And so did a few of Poeltl's teammates bailing him out.
“He didn't have to carry us tonight,” Krystkowiak said.