After holding off Washington on Wednesday, Pac-12 tournament eight-seed Utah was faced with a great albeit challenging opportunity. Beat No. 4 Arizona, a team they’d been competitive against in both regular season meetings, and the Utes’ slim hopes of an at-large bid would have some life despite their weak non-conference schedule.
Sean Miller’s Wildcats were in no mood for drama, outscoring Utah 27-6 over the final 15:29 of the first half on their way to an impressive 71-39 win in Las Vegas. Utah shot just 25.5% from the field, and leading scorers Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge were the most notable victims of Arizona’s suffocating defensive effort.
Wright accounted for just five points (1-for-8 FG), three rebounds and four assists, and Loveridge scored just two points on 0-for-6 shooting. Arizona’s length and athleticism was more problematic for Utah than it was in either regular season meeting, as it not only robbed Utah of the ability to create offense within their offense but also kept their best creators from accomplishing anything outside of the offensive framework.
The 13 points Utah scored in the first half set a Pac-12 tournament record for fewest points scored in a half, breaking a mark the Utes set in last year’s semifinal loss to Oregon (15 points).
Offensively Arizona shot 52.9% from the field with Nick Johnson (14 points), T.J. McConnell (13) and Aaron Gordon (11) all reaching double figures in what was a balanced effort. The Wildcats scored 32 points in the paint, 13 points off of Utah turnovers and 12 second-chance points. Arizona does have capable shooters in Johnson and Gabe York, but this isn’t a group that’s best-served to simply fire away from deep. Instead, using their ability to get inside and on the offensive boards makes Arizona a tougher team to defend and that was the case against Utah.
Next up for Arizona, which is well on its way to the top seed in the West Region (and a likely San Diego-to-Anaheim path), is the winner of the quarterfinal between Colorado and California.