SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - DeMarcus Cousins played with stitches under his left brow and fire in his eyes.
After Friday night's game, there also was contentment in his voice as the Sacramento Kings pulled off a rare road win against a Utah Jazz team scrapping for a playoff spot.
``It feels good, especially playing through the type of adversity we played through tonight,' said Cousins, who led the Kings with 27 points, including the game-winning free throw with 3.8 seconds left in a 104-103 victory. ``It was definitely a big win for us.'
No one was happier than Kings coach Keith Smart, who was able to celebrate on the 25th anniversary of his winning shot that lifted Indiana to the 1987 NCAA Championship.
``This young group, they've been in every game for the most part,' said Smart, who took over in January for the fired Paul Westphal. ``We are judging our team right now on how they play in the last 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The mistakes we have made in those 2 minutes and 20 seconds ... have cost us 11 games. I thought the guys managed themselves from a personal standpoint ... and they made the right plays that were necessary to help us win this game.'
The Jazz can only lament another that got away, just five days after losing a quadruple-overtime game in Atlanta.
The win snapped Utah's seven-game home winning streak, while the Kings (18-33) won on the road for only the fifth time all season.
``We didn't play Utah Jazz basketball that we have been playing,' said Al Jefferson, who led them with 27 points. ``We still had a chance to win. We can't blame anybody but ourselves.'
The Jazz had a woeful shooting night in every aspect.
They shot just 35 percent from the field (31 of 88), 23 percent from 3-point range (3 of 13) and only 73 percent from the foul line, making just 38 of 52 free throws.
No one fared worse than Derrick Favors, who set an all-time Jazz futility mark by shooting 0 of 13 from the field.
Most were on missed putbacks, including one with seven-tenths of a second left after Gordon Hayward's driving layup missed its mark. Jefferson's tip-in fell, but too late and the game was over.
``You've got to learn how to play and close out ballgames,' Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. ``We've taken some steps forward; we just didn't demonstrate it tonight.'
Marcus Thornton added 26 points for Sacramento, which snapped a four-game losing streak.
Hayward added 19 for the Jazz while rookie guard Alec Burks had 15, outplaying the more publicized Sacramento rookie Jimmer Fredette, who was back in Utah for only the second time as a pro.
But Burks, who was in the game instead of Devin Harris at crunch time, committed a late turnover that gave the Kings a chance to win it.
They went right to Cousins, who was fouled, but made one of two free throws.
Asked why the Jazz-Kings games are so heated, Cousins said simply, ``They get every call.'
The Kings were called for three technical, including one on Cousins after he suffered the gash in a physical third quarter.
He left the court to get stitches, but didn't go quietly.
``I prefer a guy with fire,' Smart said of Cousins. ``We have guys that you've got to pump up and put air in them to make them play hard and play with passion. (Cousins) is going to grow out of that and know how to manage. He'll settle down and his skills will continue to develop.'
If the Jazz are to make the playoffs, they'll need the same from their young players, especially big men Favors and Enes Kanter, who helped Utah win the rebounding battle (62-48) but couldn't find the basket.
Entering Friday, the Jazz and Kings seemed headed in opposite directions, with Utah having won seven of its last nine.
But each of the three previous meetings had been close.
Eight days ago, the Jazz won on Jefferson's last-second tip-in.
In the first meeting, Fredette had a chance to win it late, but shot an air-ball 3-pointer.
This time, Fredette wasn't on the court late, having been surpassed by diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas in the lineup. Thomas added 19 on Friday for Sacramento on 6-of-8 shooting
At this time a year ago, Fredette was leading the nation in scoring at BYU and preparing to pick up his Player of the Year award. He insisted before the game he was willing to be patient and learn, and Smart insisted Fredette would develop into a solid NBA player.
While the Kings got the win Friday, Fredette struggled.
He made his first shot after entering with 2:46 left in the first quarter and hit a jumper in the fourth. But he looked like a man lacking confidence. He missed a pair of free throws, was called for a lane violation and traveling and was 0 of 2 from beyond the arc.
He finished with four points in 16 minutes, and as a sign in the arena read, it's time still to Simmer Jimmer. He was happy with the win, nonetheless.
``It's a big win for us to be able to come into this building. Not many teams can come in here and win,' Fredette said.
Notes: Jazz swingman Josh Howard was at Friday's game just eight days after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Howard already has been rehabbing the knee with hopes he will be able to play again should the Jazz make the playoffs, and possibly even sooner. ... Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans did not dress because of back spasms. ... Smart reflected on Friday being the 25th anniversary of his winning shot that gave Indiana a 74-73 win over Syracuse in the 1987 NCAA championship game. ``It reminds me every time I look in the mirror that 25 years ago I had a full head of hair,' he joked. ``Today is always special.' ... At halftime, the Jazz honored Hall of Fame golfer Billy Casper, a Utah resident.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved