Arizona basketball picks and pops Utah
LAS VEGAS — Arizona’s defense didn’t miss a note against the conference’s best offense on Thursday.
The No. 1 Pac-12 Conference tournament-seeded Wildcats rolled past No. 8 Utah to a sound of 71-39 in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
After a tight start to the game, the Wildcats (29-3, 15-3 Pac-12) held the Utes nearly scoreless for 10 minutes into the first half. During that time span, Arizona took a 16-point lead before the Utes (21-11, 9-9) scored again. But Arizona never looked back.
Utah’s total of 39 points is the fewest points scored by a team in the conference tournament.
Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon (11) reaches for the ball before it goes out of bounds during Arizona's 71-39 victory over Utah in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Arizona advances to the semifinals while Utah is out of the tournament.
“We had, obviously, an excellent defensive day,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “I thought Utah might have missed some shots they normally make. For the most part, we tried to make the game hard-earned on that end of the floor, and it was one of our best defensive efforts of the season.”
Three of Utah’s top scorers, Dallin Bachynski, Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, combined to score 16 points on 4-21 shooting from the field.
Bachynski’s nine points led the way for the Utes.
“We tried,” was all Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak could say when asked about his leading scores struggles. “You can’t have that kind of production against Arizona and expect to be sitting here feeling anything other than the way we feel.”
The key to Arizona’s defensive success was stopping the pick-and-roll.
On Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City, the Wildcats barely slipped by the Utes 67-63 in overtime. What worked well for Utah in that game didn’t work Thursday.
The Utes’ pick-and-roll was nonfunctional on Thursday, and they were limited to tough and uncomfortable shots.
“They just pressured us outside and disrupted our offense and gave us shots that we didn’t really want to take,” Utah guard Princeton Onwas said.
Arizona pressured and pushed Utah guards out of the lane and made it difficult for the Utes to swing the ball across the court.
Wright, Utah’s leading scorer during the season, was held to just five points — his lowest scoring output in a single game this season. Wright shot 1-8 from the field and made three of his five points at the free-throw line.
“When we’ve got a guy like Delon Wright coming off of a pick-and-roll, you’ve got to worry about him at first,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said. “I think we did a good job of containing him and containing the big men as well.”
Arizona, which ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense, has emphasized all season long that defense translates into offense; Thursday’s game was proof.
The Wildcats’ defense forced eight first half turnovers and gave up just 13 points.
Arizona shot 50 percent (13-26) from the field in the first half.
Arizona junior guard Nick Johnson finished with a game-high 14 points, but he scored 12 in the first half on 3-4 shooting, including two 3-pointers.
Arizona holding Utah to 39 total points wasn’t the only record set Thursday afternoon. Utah also shot a Pac-12 Tournament record-low 25.5 percent (12-47) for the game.
The Wildcats held Utah to 13 points in the first half, the fewest points ever scored in a half in a Pac-12 Tournament game.
“Our defense just collectively was better,” Miller said. “It’s not one person. It’s the group. We were in the right place at the right time and played with a lot of energy and a lot of effort.”
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella