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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 10 Arizona uses defense, timely offense to upset No. 8 Utah

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Arizona guard TJ McConnel (4) and Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski (35) defend Utah guard Delon Wright (55) during the first half of Arizona’s 31-26 lead against Utah at McKale Center on Saturday.



It was truly a dominating defensive performance from the No.
10 Arizona men’s basketball team on Saturday night, as the Wildcats took down the
No. 8 Utah Utes 69-51 in McKale Center. Arizona exerted its physicality down
low by winning the rebounding margin 40-19, points in the paint battle 34-14
and the always important second chance points fight 18-3.

“Very, very proud of our team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller
said after the win. “We played with incredible energy and effort. We knew this
was a big game. We knew we were playing against a great team that had set a
standard… based on their performance from the beginning of the year until now.
For us, it was about us being at our best.”

Coming into this game, Utah was averaging 75.8 points per
game and holding opponents to just 55.8 points per game. Much like the Arizona/Gonzaga
game earlier this season, the Wildcats buckled down defensively and held Utah to
24.8 points below their season average.

Utah’s leading scorer Delon Wright came in averaging 15.3
points per game on 55.5 percent shooting from the field. Despite scoring seven
points in the first 4:11 of the game, Wright scored just three more points for
the rest of the game to end with 10 points on 4-9 shooting. Miller and company trotted
out several different looks at Wright as, among others, Rondae
Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson and Elliott Pitts all had a chance to guard
the Wooden award watch list player.

“We have a lot of different types of defenders who can guard
[Wright],” Miller said. “That’s part of the solution. It can’t be one guy, it
has to be multiple players.”

Leading the offensive charge for Arizona were Johnson and
McConnell, who finished with 18 points and 16 points, respectively. McConnell
paced the first half by scoring 12 of his 16 points early on, with each bucket
coming seemingly just when the Wildcats needed it most. The fifth year senior
finished with a team-high six assists and contributed three rebounds.

Johnson was a non-factor in the first half, going 0-1 from
the field with two personal fouls in 10 minutes of action. However, it was a
tale of two halves for the 19-year-old freshman phenom. Johnson put up 18
points and nine rebounds in the second half alone and was a huge factor in the
Wildcats building a 20 point lead as the clock ran down.

Over the last two games, Johnson is averaging 20 points and
8.5 rebounds as he continues to learn how to operate in a collegiate offensive
scheme. After the game, Johnson deflected the praise directed at him and instead
praised McConnell for leading the charge throughout against the Utes.

“[Scoring] can be an everyday thing with him, he chooses not
to be as aggressive,” Johnson said. “When we need it, then he does it. I think
that’s the perfect flipside to what we do because as you think he’s not going
to shoot, now he’s shooting.”

Johnson later added his opinion on McConnell’s ranking
amongst all point guards in college basketball.

“I think he’s probably the best point guard in the country
and probably one of the best teammates on our team,” Johnson said. “He makes it
easy for all of us and I think all of us would agree with that.”

While McConnell and Johnson kept the scoring flowing on the
wings, power forward Brandon Ashley and center Kaleb Tarczewski paced the
Wildcats down low against a physical Utah frontline.

Ashley put up his second-straight solid performance, scoring
14 points and hauling in eight rebounds in 31 minutes. After getting bageled on
the glass against Oregon State and recording just two rebounds against Colorado,
Tarczewski grabbed five boards to go along with seven points.

The duo helped Arizona hold Utah’s starting frontcourt of Jakob
Poeltl, Jordan Loveridge and Chris Reyes to 18 combined points—seven points below
their combined season average of 25 points per game. However, more importantly,
the Wildcats held the trio to just nine combined rebounds.

Looking forward, Arizona is off until Thursday when the team
heads to California to take on Stanford. As Miller puts it, the team needs this
time off after the big win in front of the home crowd.

“It’s one of those days that I think I’ve talked a lot
about: beautiful outside, hostile inside,” Miller said. “It’s a special place
to be a coach at [and] player at on these Saturday afternoons. I’m glad it’s
Saturday too by the way. We kind of need a Sunday off; we’ve been at it for a
while now.”

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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