Larry Krystkowiak’s Utah Utes entered Wednesday’s home game against No. 4 Arizona in need of a resume-building victory. With their non-conference slate consisting of a home win over BYU and little else of value, Utah will need a strong finish to Pac-12 play in order to have a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament. And after falling at UCLA last Saturday, a shot at the Wildcats on their home floor represented an opportunity the Utes could not afford to let slip from their grasp.
Unfortunately for Utah that turned out to be the case, and their foul shooting was the biggest reason why. Utah shot just 13-for-22 from the foul line, falling 67-63 in overtime despite grabbing 13 offensive rebounds and scoring 13 second-chance points. If anything the fact that Utah had a chance to win the game was a surprise, considering how poorly Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright played.
Loveridge shot 1-for-12 on the night, losing patience in the second half and forcing up some shots he didn’t need to take. Finishing the game with seven points and five rebounds, the sophomore put forth his worst effort of the season. As for Wright, while he didn’t shoot as poorly as Loveridge (4-for-9 FG) he struggled to have the impact that makes him one of the most versatile players in college basketball.
Wright finished with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and six turnovers, and like Loveridge he ran into trouble against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Arizona forced 16 turnovers and limited Utah to 43% shooting from the field, and defense will continue to be the key for the Wildcats as they look to make a deep tournament turn sans Brandon Ashley.
Offensively there was a positive development for Sean Miller’s team on Wednesday, and that was the performance of guard Gabe York. York made his first start of the season on Wednesday, replacing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the starting lineup with Arizona looking for an offensive spark. York provided that, scoring ten of his 15 points in the first half and finishing the game shooting 6-for-10 from the field. And Hollis-Jefferson played well in his return to a reserve role, adding 13 points and four minutes.
Already two key players for Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson and York became even more important when Ashley was lost for the remainder of the season. Can both, especially York, build on their performances against Colorado on Saturday night? And can Arizona do a better job rebounding the basketball? If Arizona gets positive answers to those questions they’ll have a good chance of retaining sole possession of first place in the Pac-12, with UCLA currently making a late charge.
But this result, and its impact, is more about Utah than Arizona. Remove BYU and Boise State and just one of Utah’s remaining non-conference opponents didn’t have an RPI of 200 or worse, Texas State. With this being the case the Utes not only needed to get hot down the stretch but they also needed a marquee victory.
Wednesday night represented an opportunity to accomplish that task, but unfortunately for Utah they fell just short.