The Arizona Wildcats can be thankful they were playing in McKale Center.
Against a bad team and playing down to the competition, the Wildcats held off the Utah Utes by ending the game on a 12-0 run to avoid a deadly blow to their season.
Don't pay attention to the final score of 70-61 in favor of Arizona.
The game was dominated by the Utes for about 29 minutes of the 40-minute game. Aside from a 15-0 run by Arizona from the 16:00 mark in the second half to the 11:12 point, then in the last 5:42 of the game where Utah went scoreless, Arizona was beaten 61-43.
That's a shocking thing to think about.In my preview, I made the silly assumption the Wildcats would play up to their recent standards.
Of course that wouldn't happen in this wacky Pac-12 season.
Instead, this victory acts a reality check, a humbling event that Sean Miller can use to keep his players' attention. And it does just that without knocking them out of the NCAA tournament conversation.
Aside from two four-point plays from Kyle Fogg and Nick Johnson, Arizona was stuck in the Utes'slow-down tempo in the first half. The Wildcats found themselves down 33-25 at the half, and much of it was due to Utah's hot shooting and 2-3 defense.
The key, though, was the Utes being able to set up that defense. UA couldn't get in the open court and shot 33 percent in the first half to the Utes' 55 percent. By the end of the game, the two teams combined for two -- READ IT AGAIN, 2 -- fastbreak points.
Fogg, who didn't start because he was late to shootaround, kept Arizona in the game during the first half, scoring 10 and ripping the Utes for four steals. He finished with a team-high 17 points, six steals and two blocks.
Statistically, Josiah Turner played an important role, dishing for seven assists without taking a shot. But down the stretch, Turner sat in favor of Nick Johnson running the point. He hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:24 left that put UA on top 64-61.
Johnson finished with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in perhaps his best performance of the year.
Solomon Hill added 14 points and eight boards as well, but the biggest player in Arizona's key 15-0 run that got them back into the game was none other that Brendon Lavender. Starting in place of Fogg, the senior guard scored 12 points, all from three-point range.
Three of those bombs came during that crucial run.
But back to the concerning nature of Saturday's win. Arizona doesn't have the size or talent to come out sleepily. Indeed, the Utes are a physical, scrappy team, and their execution today showed that coach Larry Krystkowiak knows his stuff.
It's not a stretch to say he out-coached Miller, as Utah's dribble-handoffs and focus on giving it to center Jason Washburn (15 points, eight rebounds) wreaked havoc on UA's pressuring man-to-man defense.
And the numbers show that the 2-3 zone put the Utes in position to steal a game from the Wildcats.
In the end, the McKale Center crowd and Arizona's usual late-game execution won out, but the 70-61 victory is a reminder that, yes, this Arizona team is mightily vulnerable, and for a number of reasons.