DENVER — Larry Krystkowiak had just watched his Utah Utes make one silly mistake after another as feisty Fresno State scored 10 straight points to grab its first lead of the night.
Rather than call a timeout and let the Bulldogs whip up the crowd even more, he left it to his players to figure things out on their own.
The move paid off as the third-seeded Utes one-upped the Bulldogs’ spurt with a blistering 19-2 retort that fueled their 80-69 win Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve got a lot of trust in our basketball team,” Krystkowiak said. “That run, a lot of that was self-inflicted, a combination of some turnovers and a couple of ‘me shots’ instead of ‘we shots.’”
The Utes (27-8) quickly found their rhythm again on both ends of the court and took a 66-50 lead with four minutes left by the time the Bulldogs (25-10) recovered.
“You know, they had the lead for 33 seconds of the game. I don’t like to call a timeout and let them have the lead for two-and-a-half more minutes during the timeout,” Krystkowiak said. “I was real curious how we were going to respond. Obviously a timeout would have been used if we couldn’t stop the bleeding. But it has been a little bit of a consistent trait of our team to bounce back.”
Sophomore 7-footer Jakob Poeltl overcame a slow start to score 16 points and pull down a career-high 18 rebounds and move the Utes within one win of a second straight trip to the Sweet 16. Lorenzo Bonham had 17 points and Brandon Taylor finished with 16.
Marvelle Harris, the Mountain West’s player of the year, led the Bulldogs with 24 points.
The Bulldogs’ nine-game winning streak came crashing to a halt after they took a 48-47 lead with 10:32 remaining on Julien Lewis’ 3-pointer, capping a 10-0 run over a 90-second span.
Bonham put Utah back on top with a 3 and Jordan Loveridge, whose back-to-back turnovers led to half of the Bulldogs’ points in their run, sank two 3s to atone for his errors.
The Bulldogs, who hadn’t lost since Feb. 13 in overtime at Nevada, had one last run in them: They scored the next nine points to cut the deficit to 67-59 with 2 minutes left.
Poeltl’s three-point play on a nifty spin move halted the run and kept the Bulldogs at bay in the Midwest Regional.
“He’s a great player,” Harris said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge for us. We knew trying to jump up and use athleticism wasn’t going to be enough against him. You have to put a body on him. It was a tough matchup for us, yeah.”
The Bulldogs actually did a good job on Poeltl early on, limiting him to 2-of-7 shooting in the first half. They used a swarming defense to force him into some mistakes like a throwback pass that resulted in a backcourt violation.
“Maybe the first half was a little bit of a wakeup call for me,” Poeltl said. “Because they were being very aggressive. I knew it was coming, but like Coach said before we couldn’t really simulate it in practice, it’s a different experience when it’s actually happening in the game.
“So, second half I was probably a little more prepared for that. I tried to make plays off their scramble defense. I tried to find open guys and if it was time for me to be aggressive I tried to be aggressive.”
Utah had 20 turnovers for the second straight game.
“The problem is we can’t simulate the hands, stripping, style of defense they played,” Krystkowiak said. “We actually got a chuckle out of the fact that teams had given up 25 and 27 points off of turnovers. Then I looked down at the stat sheet, and we gave up 28 points off the turnovers.”
Utah: The Utes improved to 37-31 in the NCAA Tournament. This is their highest seed since they were a No. 2 in 1999.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs’ last NCAA appearance was in 2001, when they beat California in the opening round. They’re now 2-6 in the NCAAs.
Utah: Behind Poeltl, the Utes outrebounded the Bulldogs 38-15. Half his boards were on the offensive glass, and his 16 points made him the first Ute since Andrew Bogut in 2004-05 to score 600 points in a season.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs’ previous season low in rebounds was 25.
Utah: Plays the Gonzaga-Seton Hall winner on Saturday at the Pepsi Center.
Fresno State: Says goodbye to Harris, the leading scorer in school history (2,031), along with fellow seniors Lewis and Cezar Guerrero.