With the game on the line, poise became the biggest factor and both teams appeared lacking.
But it was the Utes who gathered enough at the end to defeat the Mountaineers, 65-62, in an NCAA West Regional semifinal Thursday at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim before 17,838.
It was the kind of finish where both teams looked wide-eyed and ready to collapse. Utah failed to make a field goal during the last 9:05 of the game and needlessly fouled one of West Virginia's best free-throw shooters late in the game.
West Virginia's self-destruction went further. The Mountaineers stalled a run by throwing a towel onto the court and getting hit with a technical foul, and, with less than a minute remaining, allowing 28 seconds to tick off the clock before fouling the Utes' best free-throw shooter, center Michael Doleac.
"It was an ugly win," Utah Coach Rick Majerus said after his team improved to 28-3. "It certainly wasn't an artistic game. But I was proud of the way our guys played. We hung tough."
The Mountaineers (24-9) came close to redeeming themselves on the last play of the game, when Jarrod West, who had banked in a three-point basket to beat Cincinnati in the second round, fired off a three-point shot with five seconds to play, but this time it bounced off the rim.
"That was not the play we set up, obviously," West Virginia Coach Gale Catlett said. "He doesn't understand how we lost. At his age, he thinks he can whip the whole world."
If West goofed, he wasn't the only one. With 8:28 to play and West Virginia down, 55-50, West was called for a foul after an attempted steal and the Mountaineers leaped to their feet to protest the call.
Guard Carl Williams, who admitted throwing a towel onto the court, was promptly tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"It was bizarre," Catlett said. "It really was. . . . The officials never told me what it was, but they were confused two or three times during the game."
Andre Miller, who had 14 points and eight assists, made both foul shots assessed to West and Doleac (25 points, nine rebounds) made one of the two free throws on the technical to give Utah a 58-50 lead.
The free throws would be an omen for Utah, for that would be the only way the Utes would score for the remainder of the game.
On the reason for the Utes' frigid shooting, Doleac said: "I guess it was because we missed our shots."
Behind forward Brent Solheim, who finished with 16 points, the Mountaineers marched back.
Utah inexplicably fouled Solheim after he grabbed a defensive rebound with 2:17 to play. Solheim made both free throws to get West Virginia within three, 63-60.
On Utah's next possession, Utah missed a shot and fouled Solheim on an almost identical play. Solheim made his free throws again and just like that, Utah's lead was down to one with 1:50 remaining.
To punctuate what looked like a Utah collapse, guard Drew Hansen missed both his free throws after being fouled with 57 seconds to play and the Utes clinging to their one-point lead.
West Virginia missed a three-point shot, and the Mountaineers fouled Doleac--who at that point had made 11 of 12 free throws--after waiting almost half a minute. Doleac made both, and West's miss sealed the victory.
"We wanted to foul sooner and we didn't foul the right guy," Catlett said. "Doleac almost made as many foul shots as our whole team. The game was about them making their foul shots and us missing ours."
For the game, Utah made 22 of its 27 free throws and West Virginia 10 of 16.
Although he didn't say so, Majerus must be a little more light-hearted that he won't be playing Kentucky in the regional final. Last season, Utah lost to Kentucky in the round of eight, but the Utes will play Arizona for a trip to the Final Four.