After winning the Maui invitational and witnessing a historic 30-point, 13 rebound performance from Oumar Ballo, Arizona will get an early taste of PAC-12 basketball in the first week of December. The Wildcats come into this contest now ranked fourth in the Associated Press Poll and travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, to take on the University of Utah Utes.
Last season, Tommy Lloyd had everything working his way in his two meetings against the Utes, carving out victories by an average of 19 points. The Wildcats' last trip to the John. M Huntsman was paired with the first career triple-double of Kerr Kriisa.
Throughout the first six games of the season, Kriisa has played his best basketball since arriving in Tucson in the fall of 2020. Although the sample size is still relatively thin, the junior guard has shown that fans could be poised for a breakout season.
Entering this game, Kriisa has displayed a more complete version of himself compared to years past, not forcing shots and getting into the teeth of the defense via the pick and roll. Kriisa has been a massive factor to the early-season success of Ballo and Azoulas Tubelis.
The junior is averaging 15.3 points per game, along with 7.5 assists. However, his efficiency has stood out the most, shooting just under 53 percent on field goals and 51 percent from the perimeter, and he will look to continue building off his hot start throughout the first month of the season.
As head coach Craig Smith's second year with the Utah Utes program is underway he looks to build off a 2021-2022 season, where the program found limited production having just four wins within the conference. On the bright side, Smith returns most of his roster, and the primary asset is the 7-foot center Branden Carlson. Rightly so, Carlson was named to the Preseason First Team All-Pac-12.
Most of the Utes' offense is run through Carlson as he can play inside and out while proving to be a consistent shot-maker from the mid-range area, also capable of stretching the floor. Carlson is a problematic matchup defensively given the combination of his size and touch around the rim. Arizona does own the strength advantage inside and will likely look for post-entry passes early within their half-court offense.
The Utes are a shooting-happy team, not afraid to test the perimeter defense of their opponent. Given Gabe Madsen’s quick trigger and ability to hit shots beyond the perimeter, Courtney Ramey will likely be his assignment. The junior is shooting 51.7 percent in five home games on three-point shots, averaging 13.4 points per game.
Similarly, Rollie Worster finds himself entering Thursday shooting at 45 percent from distance at home. Worster will start alongside Madsen as Marco Anthony also joins the pair and will help control the ball.
Thursday night's game against the Utes marks Arizona's first conference game of the season and can be found live at 6:30 PM MST on the PAC-12 network.
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