By LARRY VAUGHT
LAS VEGAS — How did Kentucky manage to let Utah lead almost the whole game and beat the Wildcats 69-66 here Wednesday night?
Utah guard Timmy Allen, who played all 40 minutes and scored a game-high 25 points, said the Utes got extra inspiration from some pregame chatter from UK players that both UK coach John Calipari and his players denied knowing anything about after the game.
“They were not expecting anything from us,” Allen said. “We heard them talking pregame. That energized us. We just used that as motivation. We came out hard and we were able to carry that to the end.”
Utah had a 17-point lead (54-37) with 12:11 to play before UK charged back to tie the game 66-66 only to fail to do enough to secure the win. The Cats got two late 3-point tries — Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley — that could have forced overtime but both missed.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak didn’t want Allen to elaborate on what he heard being said. However, he did say his team showed more toughness than it had all season. He had tried to inspire them to display the same toughness the Utah football team did to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and said the motivation was more internal than anything UK said.
Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans said Utah players “can say whatever” about the pregame talk.
“Nobody can say much. They came out hitting everything. We tried to fight back at the end,” Hagans, who had 16 points, eight assists, four steals and three rebounds, said.
Calipari also downplayed any possibility that something said in pregame inspired the Utes.
“Tell me who would have talked,” Calipari said. “We usually don’t do it, but maybe one guy did. Normally it would be a guy who doesn’t play much that does that.”
Kentucky also wouldn’t say much about a late replay review that turned a block call on Utah and two free throws for Tyrese Maxey with 22.7 seconds to play into a charge on Maxey and Utah ball with a 68-66 lead with 22.7 seconds to go.
The Utah coach said the original block call was made based on the Utah defender being inside the arc when contact was made. The review — allowed in the game’s final two minutes — apparently showed the defender was not in the arc and resulted in the call being changed.
Maxey got a little out of control on the drive but if the original call had stood he would have been at the foul line with a chance to tie the game.
“The charge was the play of the game,” Krystkowiak said.
Calipari had little reaction when the call was reversed during the game and had very little to say after the game.
“He (the official) said he was going to do it, so what was I going to say,” Calipari said. “He did (review it) and changed it and we still had 3’s to tie the game.”
It was no surprise both shots missed even though both were plays Calipari drew up and the players executed perfectly. Kentucky was only 2-for-17 from 3-point range and Maxey was 0-for-3 before his last miss and Quickley 0-for-3 also.