Utah at Arizona: A midseason exhibition or a knockout punch

Time: 12 p.m. MST

TV: FSAZ

The Utah Utes haven't caught a break in their first season in the Pac-12. Where fellow newcomer Colorado has challenged to remain in the top half of the conference, the Utes have lost nine of their last 10.

Coming off a 57-52 loss against the ASU Sun Devils in which they shot 30.4 percent from the floor and grabbed 22 rebounds to ASU's 40, Utah should theoretically be easy pickins for the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center today at noon.

A telling quote from Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak in The Salt Lake Tribune:

"We get on the road and a couple things go against us, and we have a tendency to display a different demeanor," Krystkowiak said earlier this week. "And at home a couple plays go against us, and we continue to fight."

On a three-game winning streak, the Wildcats are on a roll, and victory should be all but theirs, especially considering all of their road woes.

Bill Oram's lead to his preview is a telling tale of what this season has been like so far for the Utes, and it goes back to their 77-51 loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season.

The Utes’ 77-51 loss to Arizona in the Huntsman Center was one of their most memorable for this reason: The image of Cedric Martin, blacked out, lying flat on the court, then struggling to his legs, taking a few steps and sitting back down.

Talk about a metaphor for a season.

Ouch.

The focus for Arizona should be on themselves, as it usually is under Sean Miller's tutelage. Another blowout for the Wildcats acts as a building block in their chase for the Pac-12's first place.

Take it as a mid-season exhibition scrimmage, if you will. They're not supposed to lose to Seattle Pacific Utah, and it's an opportunity to work out any kinks in their execution. More importantly, it's a chemistry-building exercise.

It's a game that will help Josiah Turner finally turn in a game that's both statistically and fundamentally sound, something he's yet to do this season. It's an opportunity for Angelo Chol to work himself into the rotation with more gusto, less mistakes and more shot blocks that land the ball in the fifth row of McKale. It's a confidence-inducing chance for Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry and Kyle Fogg to perform well for a full game -- all in the same game.

With everything appearing to come together, this is a game that could act as tangible proof of improvement.

The Seattle Pacific loss in the first exhibition game worried many. But ask Miller himself, and it was also a reality check about how many holes had to be filled this year. How much have they really grown?

Miller's bulldog mentality might shine through in this one if the Wildcats play up to their recent standards. Don't expect him to pull out the rotation players very early; he's never been good at it, and it goes with his competitive nature.

Finishing games -- even in blowouts against sub-par opponent -- is something he takes quite seriously.

And if the Utes make it a game, all the better. In a win, the Wildcats will be on their home floor with a humbling experience that will teach them they can't take any game for granted.

I probably don't need to say this, but for good measure, here it goes: if Utah pulls out a miracle with their first road victory of the season, it's both a statement game for them and a deadly knockout punch to Arizona's chances in the regular season of Pac-12 play.

It'd also be the end to any NCAA tournament bid that isn't by way of automatic bids.

Quoteable

Cedric Martin (with a tinge of humor) on his second face-off with Solomon Hill, who was ejected in the last meeting for giving Martin a blow to his head (via Oram's preview article).

"I’m not going to try to go into that game with the mindset I’m out to get him back," Martin said. "I wouldn’t mind getting physical with him again and him hitting me again and getting kicked out, though."

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