Expect to see these types of defensive masterpieces from now on.
It's a bit kind to say the Arizona Wildcats had anything that could be considered beautiful on Wednesday, but if Sean Miller's club wants to win the Pac-12, accepting this newer, uglier identity will have to do. The Wildcats beat the Utah Utes 67-63 at the Huntsman Center, and they needed overtime, guts and a rugged defense to do it.
Problem is, the bench is still short.
With Aaron Gordon suffering from a battered confidence, it was even more difficult. The freshman fouled out with 10 minutes left having scored three points, grabbed just three rebounds and accumulated five turnovers.
Gabe York made a surprise appearance in the starting lineup and brought a shooting boost to the Wildcats, especially in a short first-half burst. He scored seven straight points at the end of a 14-0 Arizona run that gave UA a 25-16 lead, and the Wildcats held steady to hold a 35-26 advantage at the half.
York finished with 15 for the game, tying Nick Johnson for the game high.
Battling back, the Utes rattled the Wildcats on the boards. That's not to say center Kaleb Tarczewski didn't put together another impressive performance following a double-double against ASU last week. He finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Arizona needed all of it.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who came off the bench behind York, added 13 points, six of which came in the overtime period -- four of those points came off offensive boards. He also knocked down a three-pointer and went 5-for-11 after taking just four shots against the Sun Devils.
Overall, it appears Miller's young players who were once hesitant to shoot came out gunning. York's presence gave the starters another dimension, and in theory, playing with that unit will mask the sophomore's defensive liabilities.
And along with that, Hollis-Jefferson will be providing a spark with heavy minutes no matter where or when he plays. Those two factors make Arizona's future a tad less dim, even though the Wildcats went 43 percent from the floor and needed overtime to fail reaching 70 points yet again.
Johnson didn't force the issue to get a decent scoring night under his belt -- he hit 4-of-10 shots and got to the foul stripe seven times -- while McConnell had success dealing. He totaled six dimes, though his use in situations out of the timeouts and late in games seems questionable. McConnell missed a running 10-foot jumper in the final play of regulation after getting free in a similar screen play in the Arizona State loss.
Oh, and the free throw shooting wasn't too horrible. Aside from Johnson missing the front end of a 1-and-1 in overtime, the Wildcats were solid, going 14-for-19 on the night.
The defense continued to astound, and the Wildcats held Utah's best players, Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright, to their worst individual games on the same night. Wright, the most efficient player in the Pac-12, recorded six turnovers and needed 12 shots to score 12 points. Loveridge missed all but one of 12 shots.
The Wildcats see how ugly they'll need to play to win. Without any contributions from Elliott Pitts, Jordin Mayes or Matt Korcheck, it's going to be a test of the rotation players' wills every night. Without an offense, it's bound to bite UA.
But there are only five games left.
Arizona will have to accept the grind ahead.
A word on Gordon
It's easy to drop the hype now, but it's not fair to Gordon to have even taken on so many expectations leading up to this point.
While many could complain over his phantom foul calls late in the game, it was his two earliest fouls that are on him and a reason why his offensive game is in so much trouble. Two of his fouls were picked up on the offensive end. Simply put, he doesn't have the feel for the game enough to avoid fouls at this point, and his lack of a jumper has defenders having 10 good feet to get in front of Gordon driving and set up shop to draw charges.