Solomon Hill's ejection spurs Arizona Wildcats' 77-51 win against Utah Utes

Stale doesn't begin to describe the Arizona Wildcats' basketball team. Sean Miller's crew was again looking uninterested, unmotivated and unsuccessful in the first half against the Utah Utes on Thursday night.

With a Solomon Hill elbow to the head of Utah's Cedric Martin, that all changed in a 77-51 victory against the Utes in Salt Lake City.

(Editor's note: Hill will not be suspended Sean Miller told the Arizona Daily Star on Friday. Miller added that Hill was acting in retaliation for a hit from Martin on the same play.)

Arizona led just 33-28 at halftime, and again sleep-walked their way through a close game behind sloppy play. Luckily a 21-13 rebounding margin gave them more shots and thus, the lead despite hitting on 37.5 percent to the Utes' 50 percent.

But nearly two minutes into the second half and the score at 35-30, Hill appeared to put an elbow to the back of Martin's head. The Utah guard fell down and appeared unconscious before being slow to get up. The referees chatted for a while, reviewed the video tape and sent Hill to the locker room with a Flagrant 2 ejection.

While it was difficult to determine whether Hill's elbow to Martin was intentional, Arizona's leading scorer and rebounder didn't seem to disagree nor did he appear surprised when he was rejected. And considering Miller's frustrations before the game, it's only a wonder how the coach react to dealing with Hill.

After his ejection, the Wildcats blew the game open.

They went on a 20-2 run over the next six minutes behind a barrage of three-pointers -- two from freshman Nick Johnson then two from forward Kevin Parrom -- to put a fork in the Utes.

Like they did against Oregon, it took more than a half to find an aggression and a purpose.

Kyle Fogg led the team with 12 points and six assists without a turnover, and Jesse Perry added 10 boards for the undersized Wildcats, who made it past a Utah team led by 14-point scorer Jason Washburn.

But for whatever reason, the Hill ejection gave life to a number of players who Arizona needs to step up the most.

Parrom, who had previously looked like a shell of his former self, had one of his better games of the season. The junior scored a team-high 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and passed for two assists. Johnson broke out of his midseason slump with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists after a first half of four turnovers.

And the defensive pressure from the team as a whole intensified to keep Utah at 32 percent shooting in the second half. The UA bench scored 25 bench points in the second half while Utah scored three bench points for the entire game.

Of course, it's too early to declare the second half an awakening.

The win wasn't just a much-needed victory, but also a necessary bump in the road that was needed to pull Arizona out of the stale wallow of a pool that would have eventually kept them out of the NCAA tournament. Whether they'll stay out of that pool remains to be seen.

Notes

  • Freshman Angelo Chol scored four points and had two rebounds in an aggressive 10 minutes. It appears that Miller is leaning toward giving the inexperienced big man more playing time in light of Kyryl Natyazhko's struggles and the size issues plaguing the Wildcats.
  • UA outrebounded the Utes 39-29 and in the end had 11 more shot attempts despite playing against a near 7-footer in Washburn. They also forced 17 turnovers and recorded 10 steals.
  • Speaking of turnovers, Arizona seemed to solve their biggest woe of late on Thursday. The Wildcats turned it over just nine times themselves and recorded 17 assists.
  • Bruce Pascoe tweeted that Miller will review Hill's elbow to determine whether Hill will receive more disciplinary action. Pascoe also noted that the officials told Miller that the forward won't be suspended on their behalf.
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