KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had a hard time being too disappointed with the way his team performed in a 63-60 loss to No. 10 Kansas on Saturday.
That wouldn't have been the case at halftime.
The No. 13 Utes roared back from a 21-point hole in the opening minutes of the second half, taking the lead down the stretch. They simply weren't able to keep the Jayhawks from pulling back ahead and then putting the game away from the foul line in the final minute.
"Pretty proud," Krystkowiak said. "I mean, the moral victory aspect of it."
Delon Wright had 23 points to lead the Utes (7-2), who had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. But after struggling to get an open look, they had to settle for a contested 3 from 7-footer Jakob Poeltl that was partially blocked as time expired.
"You've seen a million games, it's momentum. Once you start getting on that wave a bit, you feel like you belong here," Krystkowiak said. "Just unfortunate it took us that long to wake up."
Poeltl's basket with 4:38 left gave Utah a 55-53 advantage, but Mason scored on a driving layup moments later to knot the game. Ellis then swooped through the lane and converted his floater for his only field-goal of the second half to give the Jayhawks the lead back.
Traylor and Brannen Greene combined on six straight free throws, the last of them with 13.7 seconds left forcing Utah to attempt a 3-pointer on its final possession.
"We just wanted to take it four minutes at a time," Wright said of the Utes' comeback. "We were on a run, we locked down on defense and we played hard."
It was a stark difference from the first half, when Kansas went on a big charge to take control. Wayne Selden Jr. started it with a 3-pointer, Ellis added his own 3 moments later, and then Kansas outscored the bigger Utes 23-2 over a stretch late in the half.
The Jayhawks managed all of it without backup point guard Devonte' Graham, who could be out until conference play after hurting a toe on his right foot in their win over Georgetown.
Even after a thunderous dunk by Wright to close the half, Kansas still led 39-21 — despite not having a single offensive rebound over the first 20 minutes. Utah was 0 for 7 from the arc in the half, and committed 10 turnovers with just one assist.
Traylor, who returned from a one-game suspension, converted a three-point play to start the second half to give the Jayhawks' their biggest lead of the game.
That's when the Utes began to claw back into it.
Four players scored during a 12-0 run that made it 42-33 with just under 15 minutes to go, and Wright's basket with 12:42 left trimmed the Jayhawks' lead to 48-40.
Self kept burning through his timeouts, but they did about as much as a partisan crowd in lighting a fire under the Jayhawks. By the time Wright made four consecutive foul shots and Poeltl scored at the basket, the Utes had taken a 55-53 lead.
The Jayhawks remained poised, though, scoring the next six points to pull back ahead.
Then they put the game away from the line.
"If you're going to blow a 21-point lead, yeah, I guess I liked the way we responded," Self said with a grin. "We were good at the line."
Kansas won the only previous meeting between the teams in 1995. That game was also played in Kansas City, though it was at Kemper Arena.
HOME SWEET HOME-AWAY-FROM-HOME
The Jayhawks improved to 25-5 at Sprint Center. It was their first trip to the site of the Big 12 tournament since last year's semifinals, when they lost to Iowa State.
Utah: Wright had 11 of the Utes' 21 points in the first half. ... Poeltl finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. ... Wright also had four steals and four assists.
Kansas: Selden, Ellis and Svi Mykhailiuk were a combined 8 for 8 from the field in the first half. They combined to miss their first eight shots in the second half.
Utah travels to former Mountain West rival UNLV next Saturday.
Kansas returns home to Allen Fieldhouse against Lafayette next Saturday.