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Utah vs. Arizona: Where we find out if the Utes are for real

Assuming the Arizona Wildcats continue playing as they have, we'll get glimpse of just how good the Utah Utes have become.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports


Sunday, 6 p.m. MST


FOX Sports 1

Look at the roster makeup, the stats and this year's resume of the Utah Utes, and you'll see a team ready to take the next step.

Larry Krystkowiak has recruited talent, but a weak non-conference schedule and some questionable road losses have the question hanging in the air: Are the Utes for real?

"It hasn't been, you know, real easy going through what we've gone through the last couple of years," Krystkowiak said during this week's teleconference call. "We've never put any lofty goals in terms of wins or losses. Winning is medicine. It's a little bit validating in terms of what you put into it. More enjoyable (to win), but not much has changed around here."

Since their inception into the Pac-12, the Utes have caused the Arizona Wildcats some trouble. But without a road win in 2013-14, how they can march into McKale Center on Sunday and pull out a victory against No. 1 is hard to see.

On paper though, it's fathomable.

The Utes (14-5) have road losses to Boise State, Washington, Wazzu and Arizona State, plus a home loss in overtime to Oregon that came down to the final play. The five losses came by just a combined 13 points, a testament to a tough, defensive-minded team that mirror Krystkowiak's playing days in the NBA.

Like Arizona was in a 69-57 win against Colorado on Thursday, Utah is smart on offense. The Utes are third in the nation in field goal percentage, hitting 50.8 percent of their shots. They have a three-man rotation at the center spot alone, a 16.7 point-per-game scorer in forward Jordan Loveridge, two gunners in Dakarai Tucker and Jordan Taylor who shoot more threes than twos, and versatile guard Delon Wright, perhaps the biggest piece to the puzzle.

"It's funny cause I don't feel like we've been shooting the ball all that well," Krystkowiak said of why Utah shoots so well. "I think Delon Wright, you can probably start with him in terms of individually taking high-percentage shots, in combination with him being a good passer. I think it's contagious."

Wright is worth his own story.

The skinny, 6-foot-5 transfer has jumped into the fray as the team's starting point guard. He averaged 15.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.6 steals per game, leads the NCAA in total win shares and shoots 61.5 percent from the field.

Nick Johnson will likely earn the assignment on defense, and Wright will probably be on Johnson on the other side of the court -- a measuring stick it'll be. Johnson is now scoring four more points per game, 16.4, than the next highest-scoring Wildcat on the roster, Aaron Gordon. Expect teams down the road -- and NBA scouts -- to go straight to Sunday's game tape to scout how Johnson matches up against the best defender he's faced, whose length and defensive presence has been far ahead of his offense despite the numbers.

The good news is that if Wright is chasing Johnson, he won't be able to hound T.J. McConnell, whose aggression against the Utes should take a leap coming off a very quiet game against Colorado.

Utah gets a double-double between the three centers -- Dallin Bachynski, Renan Lenz and Jeremy Olsen, and it'll stretch the floor with Tucker and Taylor, who both shoot around 36 percent from three-point range and take the majority of their shots from deep. Kaleb Tarczewski will have his hands full against an every-changing opponent with fresh legs, and all of the Wildcats on the court will be stretched to the three-point line at times.

Meanwhile, Brandon Ashley, Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could be the three-pronged attack that must match Loveridge, who's improved his perimeter game since his freshman year.

Utah is holding its opponents to 39.9 percent shooting on the season, and if Arizona isn't careful, it could be a down-to-the-wire affair. Krystkowiak's team has the proof from last season it can hang with the Wildcats, and if there's a time for Arizona to finally fall, a sleepy second half against the Buffs leading into a game against a desperate team might be worth the concern.

Remember, the Utes are trying to prove to themselves that they're for real.