Brandon Taylor, No. 22 Utah hold off No. 9 Arizona, move to second in Pac-12

(AP Photo/George Frey)
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Brandon Taylor scored 19 points to lead four players in double figures as No. 22 Utah knocked off No. 9 Arizona in the Huntsman Center on Saturday afternoon, 70-64. It was their first win over the Wildcats since March of 1998.

Taylor also hit the biggest shot of the game for the Utes. With less than a minute left, after tracking down a loose ball on an offensive rebound, Taylor dribbled out the shot clock, made Gabe York fall with a cross over and then buried a three that put Utah up five:

15 of Taylor’s 19 points came in the second half.

There may not be a hotter team in the country than the Utes, who have won five in a row and 10 of their last 12 since starting Pac-12 play 1-3. The run has gotten them into a position where they are just a game out of first place in the Pac-12 standings, and considering where they were early in January — and that they lost Delon Wright last season — that’s a remarkable feat.

What you also may not realize is that the Utes are trending towards a three seed in the NCAA tournament.

Arizona was their eighth top 50 win. Only Kansas (11) and Oregon (9) have more than that, and of their seven losses, only two were outside the top 30, the worst loss came to Stanford and five of those seven were true road games. That’s a strong profile, and one that’s backed up by their current standing in the Pac-12. The Big 12 is the toughest conference in the country this season, but the Pac-12 isn’t all that far behind.

And Utah is the only team in the conference to sweep two road weekends.

The improvement has been a direct result of more competent guard play — Taylor has seemed to embrace being a play maker and Lorenzo Bonam has been better of late; Arizona erased an 11-point halftime deficit because of turnover issues from these two — but the strength of this team is their big man. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points, 10 boards, three blocks and two assists in this one, but his impact was well beyond that. His presence around the rim changed the shots, but he also came up with a number of loose balls and kept a handful of offensive rebounds alive.

When he plays the way he has over the course of the last month and a half, Utah is a dangerous basketball team.

Arizona, on the other hand, continues their slide. We detailed this on Wednesday, but the Wildcats seem to be trending towards the No. 6 or No. 7 seed line.