Saturday night’s matchup with No. 7 Arizona represented quite the opportunity for No. 13 Utah. Not only could the Runnin’ Utes avenge their blowout loss in Tucson last month, but they could also pull into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with two games left to play. And in a game that was tight throughout, it was Arizona that was able to make those crucial plays down the stretch.
The Wildcats finished the game on an 8-0 run, winning 63-57 and clinching at least a share of the the Pac-12 regular season title. Arizona shot just 33.3% from the field, but they limited Utah to 30.9% shooting and dominated the boards in the second half. The Wildcats managed to rebound half of its missed shots in the game’s final 20 minutes, with one key play being a Gabe York put back of his own missed free throw with 1:38 remaining.
His three points (York made the first free throw) during that sequence gave Arizona a lead they would not relinquish, as Sean Miller’s team strung together multiple stops and sealed things at the foul line.
Just as good for Arizona, especially when looking forward to even bigger games in March, was the play of junior center Kaleb Tarczewski. The 7-footer entered the game playing his best basketball of the season, and that remained the case in Salt Lake City. Tarczewski won his individual matchup with Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl, accounting for 13 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes of action. And over the last five games Tarczewski is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
By comparison, Poeltl played just 12 minutes due to foul trouble and tallied four points and five rebounds before fouling out. And in a game of this magnitude, Utah could not afford to have one of the most important players struggle on both ends of the floor.
Tarczewski, who hit a significant rough patch earlier in conference play, as how scored in double figures in four of his last five games. With Stanley Johnson shooting just 3-for-19 from the field (he did finish with 12 points and 11 rebounds), and fellow starters T.J. McConnell (five rebounds and five assists) and Brandon Ashley scoring seven points apiece, Arizona needed the contributions of Tarczewski and York (12 points).
As they have on multiple occasions in recent games those two delivered, resulting in the Wildcats picking up what is one of the most impressive road wins in college basketball this season.
Delon Wright led Utah with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists, but the ball didn’t wind up in his hands often enough down the stretch. Moving forward, Utah’s Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate will have to be even more influential as the games become even bigger than Saturday night’s was. Utah fought hard for 40 minutes, displaying the staying power they did not show in the first meeting.
But it still wasn’t enough, as Arizona remained composed and found a way take control of the game in crunch time.