The Wildcats handled business in their conference home opener beating a shorthanded Colorado team 68-54. However, there is no time for celebrating as the conference leading Utah Utes are next up. Arizona Coach Sean Miller knows there is no room for soaking in the win over the Buffaloes. The stakes are higher this time around.
"I told our guys in the locker room Utah (ranked----nationally) is the best team in the Pac-12," Miller said. "They’re the deepest, the most experienced, they believe in what they do the most and they execute on both sides of the ball. We’re (going to) have to upset them here in McKale."
In what has become a somewhat disappointing start to the end of the non-conference schedule and beginning of the Pac-12 season, Coach Miller clearly wants his players to have an underdog mentality. Every rotational player on this Wildcat squad has something to prove in this compelling matchup with the 14-2 Utes. NBA scouts will be out in full force to personally eyeball which star player can rise to the challenge and lead his team to victory.
Senior guard Delon Wright has been that guy for Utah. He contributes to the success of his team in all areas as he is averaging 14.9 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals. More important, he has been the team’s undisputed leader on and off the court. He, like Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, is a midseason John Wooden award candidate. ESPN’s Jay Bilas called him one of the nation’s top five players during Thursday night’s Arizona-Colorado telecast.
Not only will it be Johnson’s task to defend Wright, but also, Arizona must be on top of its team and transition defense. Utah is 11th in the nation in shooting percentage as well as 14th in three-point percentage. However, Utah’s rattling defense may be even more impressive than its high-powered offense.
Kaleb Tarczewski often establishes position deep in the post early on in the game. However, that likely won’t be the case this time as seven-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl protects the rim almost as well as anyone at the collegiate level. The Austria native averages 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
The Utes are a top ten defensive team allowing less than 56 points per game to opponents. Perimeter shooting is not one of Arizona’s strengths, which presents a problem because Utah allows 37.7 percent of two-point baskets to be made. The Wildcats need to constantly swing the ball inside out and then around the perimeter to create open looks from the elbow on out to the three-point stripe.
Arizona surely will have its hands full competing with the running Utes. Expect this game to be tight for the most part and go down to the wire similar to the Gonzaga game. The packed Zona Zoo will be roaring for what could be one of the most exciting games of the year.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Time: Saturday January 17th at 5:00 PM MST
Crew: Ted Robinson, Bill Walton and Lewis Johnson