Analysis: Three factors in Arizona's overtime win against Utah
Another game, another close call for the Wildcats. Arizona held on to defeat Utah at home 84-81 in overtime on Saturday to improve to 2-0 in conference play and 11-4 overall.
The game was back and forth the entire second half and overtime, with the lead never stretching to more than six on either side. These three factors contributed to Arizona’s nail-biting victory.
Without its normal lack of offensive firepower this season, Arizona has relied on defense to set the tone and carry it to victory in games this season. That defense was carved up Saturday by the Utes, who shot 59 percent from the floor and 53 percent from 3-point range.
Utah’s Sedrick Barefield, the senior guard looking for his first career win in McKale, was a one-man show to start the game, scoring 19 in the first half on 7-9 shooting, including 4-5 from 3. Barefield finished with 26 points but fouled out with 1:44 remaining in the game, leaving Utah without their leading scorer down the stretch.
Arizona head coach Sean Miller knew getting Barefield off the floor would be a big key for the Wildcats down the stretch.
“One of the keys to us winning was Sedrick Barefield fouling out,” Miller said postgame. “I thought we did a really good job of kind of attacking him when he had three and four fouls. Fouling him out really changed the game the game down the stretch.”
Miller was also complimentary of the guard postgame, having seen him play last year, as well as this season against Nevada and Arizona State.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Miller said. “Knew it last year. He had 49 points in two games against us. Nevada is one of the best teams I’ve seen, he had 33 on them. Went to Arizona State and had 25 on those guys. Tonight, if he didn’t foul out, he would’ve crossed the 30 threshold again. He’s just a tremendous Pac-12 guard.”
Jeter bounces back
Arizona had been making a more concerted effort to get Chase Jeter involved early on in the games as of late, as the junior big man had 19 points in his best game of the season in the loss to Alabama on Dec. 9.
Jeter then eclipsed his career high against Montana, going for 21 points, adding in a 16 point game against UC Davis.
However, in opening Pac-12 play Thursday, Jeter scored just seven points on six shots against Colorado, only getting to the free-throw line once and not being in much of an offensive flow.
He responded Saturday, tying his career high with 21 points and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds, giving Arizona a matchup problem inside. Jeter was especially important late in the game, where he made a couple of free throws in overtime.
“Those are the type of games that we all signed up for when we come to Arizona,” Jeter said. “To be able to have that toughness and the will, the fight from everybody to close that game out in overtime was big for us. That’s the best thing that any player could ask for, on this squad especially.”
While consistent production has been there this season from Brandon Randolph and Jeter for the most part, Arizona has at times struggled to find a third player to hit big shots and produce when needed.
The ‘Cats got a needed boost on Saturday from junior guard Dylan Smith.
Smith went 4-4 from the floor, including 3-3 from 3, to finish with 11 points.
His back-to-back baskets in the first half were a part of an 11-3 run from Arizona that kept them in the game early on, negating an early 10-point lead from Utah.
Smith’s shooting helped to offset the poor shooting night from 3-point range that Randolph and Justin Coleman had, with the two combining to go 1-11 from beyond the arc.
“That’s a good sign for us that we can score 84 points, and he [Randolph] was 1-9 from the 3-point line. We weren’t at our best for the entire game. This wasn’t the best that we can play,” Miller said.
The Wildcats will be back in action next week, as they travel to the Bay Area to take on Stanford on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.
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