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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Utes loom large for Arizona

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Kyle Hansen / The Daily Wildcat

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell dribbles through the defense during Arizona’s 68-54 win against Colorado in McKale Center on Thursday. McConnell and the Wildcats have a huge matchup with No. 8 Utah on Saturday.

While orange is the new black, Utah men’s basketball is the new Arizona.

For the last couple years, and for decades before that, the No. 10 Wildcats (15-2, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) have been the Conference of Champions’ flagship franchise in men’s hoops. After starting the season ranked No. 2, it looked like this year would be no different, but after the Wildcats’ recent struggles, the Utes have passed them.

While the UA beat Colorado (9-7, 2-2) 68-54, that margin was far too close of a win over a side that was missing two of its three best players.

After the game, Arizona head coach Sean Miller said the Wildcats will have to upset the Utes in McKale Center on Saturday.

“I told our guys in the locker room: Utah is the best team in the Pac-12,” Miller said. “They’re the deepest, the most experienced, they believe in what they do the most and they execute on both sides of the ball.”

Arizona hosts the No. 8 Utes (14-2, 4-0) on Saturday at 5 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.

“We’re going to need a great crowd,” Miller said. “We’re going to need a tremendous performance.”

Arizona has lost two of its last five games. While those two defeats were on the road, the less-than-impressive win over Colorado was in the friendly confines of McKale Center.

With the Buffaloes missing starting forwards Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson, guard Askia Booker scored 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including six 3-pointers.

“The only guy that I’ve seen do that since I’ve been at Arizona is [former BYU star] Jimmer Fredette, and I think if [Booker had] gotten a couple more good looks, off, he’d certainly have scored 40,” Miller said. “We didn’t have an answer for him.”

Colorado is a team that’s lost almost as many games as it’s won. Arizona should have beat it by close to 30 or at least by enough to see the walk-ons play enough to score.

Utah’s only losses were at then-No. 16 San Diego State and at then-No. 10 Kansas, not teams that are mediocre at best, like UNLV and Oregon State.
“With this quick turn around, you don’t really have time to gameplan as well as you want to, but if we do what we do, we should be fine,” Arizona forward Stanley Johnson said about the Utah game.

Arizona should have come out with a fire against Colorado, but trailed 9-4 early on. Miller called out the team this week after it lost to Oregon State.

After the game, Miller didn’t have an issue with the Wildcats’ intensity, but he wasn’t that impressed.

“I thought we were okay,” Miller said. “I mean we had a player score 30 on us, so, for the most part we were okay.” 

The Wildcats will need more of their trademark intensity to upset the Utes.

Utah features one of the best players in country in guard Delon Wright, who is on the latest watch list for the John R. Wooden Award along with Johnson.

Johnson and Wright figure to be the two focal points in Saturday’s matchup of top-10 teams and likely will spend time guarding each other.

“I like playing against great players,” Johnson said. “I consider him a really great player in college. We’re from the same area, so I played against him a couple times. I think he does what he does really well.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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