Utah actually led for more time in the first half than Arizona did, but the Wildcats finished it out strong, led by their junior point guard, to take a 35-27 lead into the locker room.
The Utes were shooting 52% at the break, but only one offensive rebound resulted in zero second-chance points and the eight point deficit.
That 12-6 mini run is exactly what Arizona needed. The Wildcats were able to ride a little bit of momentum early in the second half, opening up a 13 point lead in the first four minutes. But Utah was able to close the lead within three at one point. A Rawle Alkins three with four minutes left in the game put Arizona back up by double digits, and essentially sealed the deal.
For the third consecutive game since returning from his ankle injury, Parker Jackson-Cartwright came off the bench, but his impact was certainly one of a starter.
If you’re looking for the greatest improvement from one year to the next in the Sean Miller era, you may not have to look farther than PJC, who has become the quintessential point guard, and showed it time and time again on Thursday night.
There was a string of possessions late in the first half where he had elite-level entry passes to Dusan Ristic in the post, and the big man was able to convert on each of those chances, resulting in the crucial 12-6 run.
The Wildcat offense survived without PJC, but moving forward, it could be one of the most efficient in the country if he is able to stay healthy and keep this level of play up. Ristic is totally dependent on guards getting him the ball in the right spot, and he was able to tie a season-high of 18 points in this one because of Jackson-Cartwright’s unreal entry passes.
Not Missing the Mark-kanen
After a perfect night from the field against Stanford, Lauri Markkanen was up to his old tricks again in his first home conference game.
He made three of his four shots in the first half, and made both free throw attempts. The Finnisher ended the game 4-7 from the field (1-4 from three), and 2-2 at the free throw line.
Once again, Arizona was able to lead the way at the free throw line, coming up with a crucial +12 differential.
If there’s one thing that this team got extremely good at while learning to play with only seven rotation players, it’s that they don’t foul in crucial spots. Utah was never able to get to the line, which combined with the poor offensive rebounding by the Utes and a bunch of missed open threes (4-21), ultimately led to their demise.
Arizona returns to action on Saturday when they host the Colorado Buffaloes. CU lost to ASU by one point on Thursday night. Arizona and Colorado are scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 PM MT on Pac-12 Networks.