LAS VEGAS - Tyrese Maxey scored 18 points and No. 6 Kentucky rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to tie the game late before falling to Utah 69-66 on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. It ended the Wildcats' six game-winning streak.
Ashton Hagans had 16 points and eight assists for the Cats, while EJ Montgomery had eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Cats had an advantage on points off turnovers (20-9), points in the paint (34-22) and second-chance points (10-4) but dug themselves too big of a hole to fully climb out of.
"How in the world were we in the game? I have no idea," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We didn't fight ... but you had Ashton and a couple guys fought. I thought EJ did good. I told him after: If that's who you are, we'll be fine. We just need him to do something like that."
Kentucky (8-2) hit 26 of its 63 shots (41.3%), including just 2 of 17 from behind the arc (11.8%). Utah connected on 23 of its 42 attempts (54.8%), including eight of 15 (53.3%) from long range. It's the first time this season a Kentucky opponent has shot 50% or better.
"I believe we've got good shooters," Calipari said. "Just maybe timid right now? You're literally pulling up and it's not close to the rim; what's in your mind? We've got to fix some of that."
With a 35-31 lead at the break, Utah went on a 10-0 run to take a 50-36 lead. Maxey made a free throw to stop the run, but Utah scored the next four to take their biggest lead of the game -- and UK's biggest deficit of the season -- 54-37 with 12:11 left to play.
"How about they had three freshmen start and two sophomores and they punched us in the mouth," Calipari said. "So all this stuff about my young team? He (Larry Krystkowiak) has a young team too. ... They weren't beasts. What they did was they physically fought. It's what I'm trying to get my team to do."
Kentucky showed some of that fight in a valiant comeback attempt.
Trailing 56-39, Kentucky would score seven straight on two baskets by Keion Brooks Jr. and a 3-pointer from Hagans. After Utah got a layup from Mikael Jantunen, the Cats scored five in a row, capped by a three-point play from Nick Richards, to cut the lead to 58-51 with 6:20 to play.
The Cats were not done.
UK got within two on a pair of Richards free throws with 4:07 to play. After Utah got a free throw from Both Gach and a 3 from Riley Battin to take a 66-60 lead with 2:28 to go, Kentucky scored six straight points, all in the span of 37 seconds, to tie the game at 66 apiece. It was the first tie since the game was tied at 2-2.
"We didn't let down," Hagans said.
The tie lasted just 22 seconds, as Allen hit a tough jumper to give the Utes a 68-66 lead with 1:21 to go. After Hagans missed from inside on Kentucky's ensuing possession, Utah had the ball with under a minute to go. But the Cats locked down on defense and forced a shot clock violation with 32.5 seconds to play.
On Kentucky's next possession, Maxey drove the lane and was apparently fouled with 22.7 seconds remaining. However, the referees went to the monitor and reversed the call, charging Maxey with an offensive foul and giving the ball back to the Utes.
Utah was able to break the UK press and get the ball into the front court, where Kahlil Whitney fouled Utah's Rylan Jones, a 92% shooter at the line. Jones missed the first before making the second to give Utah a 69-66 lead with 15 seconds to play.
Kentucky had a possession to tie, but Maxey's long 3 missed badly and a scramble ensued for the loose ball. Montgomery went to the floor and came up with the ball and quickly called a timeout with 3.2 seconds left. After the timeout, the Cats were able to get the ball to Immanuel Quickley for an open 3 from the left corner, but the shot rimmed off and the Utes held on for the win.
"My team, more than any that I've coached the last five to seven years, that team needs each other," Calipari said. "If they go out and try to do it themselves ... we're in trouble."
Utah (9-2) got a game-high 25 points from Timmy Allen, 14 from Gach, 12 from Jones and 10 from Riley Battin.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, facing Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas. Tipoff is set for approximately 5:15 p.m. ET, and the game can be seen on CBS.
"We've been in this situation," Hagans said. "It's time to get back to work. We've just got to become a better team."