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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona hoops takes on shorthanded Utah squad

Courtesy+of+Chad+Zavala%2FThe+Daily+Utah+Chronicle
Courtesy of Chad Zavala/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Arizona’s road game against Utah tonight at 6:30 just got a little easier.

On Wednesday, the Utes (4-13, 1-4 Pac-12 Conference) and head coach Larry Krystkowiak announced that leading scorer and starting point guard Josh Watkins was dismissed from the team for a “violation of team rules,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Tribune also reported that Watkins was also suspended for one game in December for reportedly falling asleep in class and being late to practice, and that a string of events similar to the reasons for his December suspension led to the dismissal on Wednesday.

The senior was the lone bright spot for the Utes, who have had to deal with a lot of change after Krystkowiak took over before the season began. Watkins, a New York native, averaged 15.6 points and nearly five assists in 31 minutes per game.

“The integrity of our program as a whole cannot be sacrificed for any individual,” Krystkowiak told the Tribune. “The well-being of our program will always come first. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I really wish Josh well and I hope he remains at Utah to finish his degree.”

On Tuesday, Arizona head coach Sean Miller emphasized just how important corralling Watkins would be to the Wildcats’ success.
“I don’t know if there’s another player that means more to their team’s success than him,” Miller said of Watkins on Tuesday.

Now that Watkins is out of the equation, Arizona’s defensive assignments will be a little different than Miller was expecting. Senior guard Kyle Fogg was slotted to guard Watkins, but Arizona now has a variety of options to hold down the Utah offense.

Watkins’ dismissal helps the Wildcats (12-6, 3-2) start off their second road trip of the conference season, where Arizona will try to gain some momentum after an emotional home stand against the Oregon schools. The Utes are on a three-game losing streak and are 4-4 at home this season.

Freshman Kareem Storey will most likely fill Watkins’ spot as starting point guard for the Utes. He averages just 3.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.

The Wildcats will focus on their own problems, specifically the high turnover rate and shaky ball security that have plagued Arizona’s offense recently. Miller also emphasized a need to keep up the mindset that has the Wildcats ranked third defensively among Pac-12 teams.

“It’s just we’re right in the middle of conference play and every game is really important,” Miller said. “We’ve made some progress. I think our progress is felt more on the defensive end.”

The Wildcats will have an opportunity to get a big rebound win against Utah, which has been blown out by 20-plus points eight times this season. But Fogg said the most dangerous part of the trip was that Arizona could overlook the lowly Utes for Saturday’s matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes, who are tied for fifth place in the Pac-12 with the Wildcats.

“Definitely just underestimating a team like that,” Fogg said. “I think us going in, we’re going to have the right mindset going on the road where we have to get some wins.”

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