The Arizona Wildcats (14-10, 5-6) will look to snap a five-game losing streak Thursday when they travel to Salt Lake City to battle the surging Utah Utes (13-10, 7-4), who are coming off a road sweep of the Los Angeles schools.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. MST on ESPNU. Here are some things to keep an eye on.
Arizona’s dominance over the Utes
Arizona has won 13 of 14 against Utah since Sean Miller became Arizona’s head coach, including the matchup back on Jan. 5 in McKale Center, an 84-81 win that required overtime.
But Miller knows the past is relevant when he leads the Wildcats, who are enduring their longest losing streak in 35 years, into the Huntsman Center.
“(Utah is) not the only team that’s taken a few losses when we’ve shown up. There’s a list of teams,” he said. “But this year is different. This year’s team at Arizona is different.”
One thing that can probably be taken for certain is that this game will be close. Nine of the past 14 contests in this series have been decided single digits.
Utah’s Bea-ute-iful offense
Utah has the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12 and the No. 25 offense in the country, per KenPom. The Utes shoot well from all three levels, but do most of their damage from 3, ranking 22nd in the country in 3-point rate and 37th in 3-point percentage.
The Wildcats saw Utah’s proficiency up close last month, when the Utes shot a blistering 57 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3 in McKale.
“Utah’s offensive numbers, they jumped off the charts the first time we played them and here we are a month later and they jump off the charts again,” Miller said. “I mean, they just can really shoot the 3, they can score, they’re efficient and they have each of their guys really locked into a good role.”
Van Dyke from distance
You couldn’t be more locked into a role than Parker Van Dyke is. The senior is a 3-point specialist through and through. Of the 134 field goals Van Dyke has attempted this season, 114 (!) have come from behind the arc. For good reason. He is shooting over 40 percent from that range.
“God, he has to be one of the best shooters in our game and one of the best shooters in the Pac-12,” Miller said.
Van Dyke was Utah’s hero Saturday when he sank a buzzer-beating 3 to complete a wild comeback at UCLA. He almost did the same to Arizona back in January, but his last-second shot rimmed out.
Big game Barefield
Utah guard Sedrick Barefield has torched the Wildcats in each of the past three matchups, averaging 25 points per game, never scoring fewer than 23 points.
Barefield was incredible in McKale last month, dropping 26 points on 17 shots to go along with six assists and four rebounds. Arizona probably would have lost that game had he not fouled out late in regulation.
Like Van Dyke, Barefield does his best work behind the arc, though he is much more capable of slashing to the rim and creating his own shot off the bounce.
“We’ve had a hard stopping him,” Miller said of Barefield. “He’s a player that’s gotten better each and every year that he’s been at Utah.”
Maybe Arizona can just outscore Utah again?
As good as the Utes’ offense is, their defense is just as bad, ranking 248th in the country.
The Wildcats, a below average offensive team, shot 51 percent against Utah back in January, allowing them to escape with a win even though the Utes almost shot 60 percent. (Turnovers were a big factor, too.)
But Arizona’s offense has regressed since that game. Other than a rare hot night from 3 against ASU, the Wildcats have simply had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop lately, even from close range as our Brian Pedersen detailed on Tuesday.
One problem is Arizona’s opponents are doing everything they can to prevent Chase Jeter from getting the ball near the rim by doubling him or going under screens and daring the Wildcats to shoot from the perimeter, where they really struggle.
It’s how Washington State, one of the worst defensive teams in the country, held Jeter scoreless and Arizona to 31 percent shooting.
“We could have done a better job helping Chase and getting him the ball and I think that’s also a big emphasis this week that, when we have those opportunities, to throw it in there,” Miller said.
Jeter scored a career-high 21 points last time out against the Utes. If he can repeat that, or at least come close to that total, the Wildcats might be able to outscore the Utes’ high-powered offense again.
KenPom gives the Utes a 56 percent chance of winning.
For more pregame coverage, check out my story on what Arizona can accomplish in these last eight regular-season games, as well as my notebook on Brandon Williams’ knee, Devonaire Doutrive’s energy and Brandon Randolph’s shooting.