If games were four minutes long the Wildcats would have walked out of the McKale Center heads hanging after a blowout loss. Unfortunately for Utah they aren't and Arizona was able to compose itself in order to storm back and lay a beat down on the Utes on Saturday night. In a battle of two top 10 teams and the two programs expected to compete for the conference title this year the Wildcats made a resounding opening statement in the first of two meetings to temporarily show the PAC-12 still runs through Tucson.
T.J. McConnell played arguably his best game in a Wildcats uniform carrying Arizona in a first half where it struggled to get consistent production. 12 of his 16 points came in the first half as he mixed in a grab bag of shots; getting to the rim, hitting pull up jumpers and finishing the half with perhaps his most beautiful bucket of the night, a step back over a contesting Utah big.
It was McConnell's play-making that got Arizona going in other areas on offense as well with Kaleb Tarczewski contributing a few baskets in the opening session. With McConnell's flawless first half the Wildcats were able to hit the locker rooms with a five point lead despite a quiet first half from both Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson. However that wouldn't last long in Johnson's case.
Whatever was said or shown in the halftime locker room, it lit a spark under the man better known as "Stan the Man", as Johnson came out with six quick points in the second half and turned it up on the defensive end as well. In all Johnson would score a game-high 18 points to go with nine rebounds in a game that showcased the multitude of ways Arizona can beat an opponent.
As impressive as the halves by McConnell and Johnson were, the Arizona defense was equally as suffocating all night. Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor came out hot with the Utes star Wright getting a quick seven. However the rest of the night he was locked up by Hollis-Jefferson and a stingy Wildcats defense that held the Utes to 39% shooting, outrebounded the Utes by 20+ and turned Utah over 11 times. Wright and big man Jakob Poeltl appeared noticeably frustrated throughout the last 30 minutes trying to score over the length of the Arizona front line while being choked out inside the arc. Even Jordan Loveridge, one of Utah's better players who had been out a while this year struggled once again vs Arizona before throwing in some meaningless threes when the game was out of reach.
In what was Arizona's best game of the season bar none, it makes you wonder how on earth this team lost games to Oregon State and UNLV earlier this season with this type of performance in them. With that said, despite the lopsided score, there's no questioning the legitimacy of Utah as a PAC-12 contender and the return trip to Salt Lake City about a month from now will likely be a far tougher game for the Wildcats than Saturday night was.
At the moment however there's no questioning who the power program on the west coast is in college basketball.