The sixth-ranked Arizona Wildcats got a scare from the Colorado Buffaloes on Friday night, but they survived to remain unbeaten on the year. That keeps them atop the Pac-12 conference for now because they have played more conference games than Stanford or Oregon, the other two unbeaten teams in the league.
The Wildcats head into Salt Lake City to play a Utah Utes team that sits at 2-3 overall and 1-3 in conference play. COVID-19 issues within the program kept the Utes from having any tune-up games before conference play started, although they have since played a non-conference game against Montana State.
The Utes are playing very uneven basketball so far this year. The ebb and flow shows at the season-wide level. On the game level, their experience against Arizona State on Friday was another representation of that.
Utah started their season against Oregon. No one can blame them for getting blown out by a Top 10 team in their first game of the season.
There was understandable excitement when the Utes rebounded from that loss to defeat then-No. 15 Oregon State in their second game. That win still carries some weight, but it has lost some of its shine as the Beavers have gone on to lose two more, including Saturday’s loss to a Washington State team that was projected to finish last in the league by both the coaches and the media.
Since that win, Utah has a 10-point win over Montana State, a blowout loss to Colorado and a collapse that led to a loss to ASU.
As a team, the Utes are scoring 59.8 points per game. The bigger problem is that they are giving up 72.6 points. It’s true that the loss to Oregon causes that average to skew a bit, but a double-digit per-game deficit is still a concern.
Last year, the trip to Utah was made with Aari McDonald unavailable due to injury, Cate Reese in and out of the emergency room, and the entire team on Tamiflu. The answer to that was a 31-point offensive explosion from Sam Thomas, who also ran the point for much of the game. Thomas was one of four Wildcats (including Reese) in double figures that night as Arizona put together a 16-point victory.
This year, Utah is led by reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Brynna Maxwell. At 13.0 points per game, Maxwell is the only Ute averaging double figures. The sophomore guard also averages 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
Dru Gylten, Maxwell’s mate in the back court, is averaging 7.8 PPG while shooting a team-high 40 percent from outside. The Utes’ point guard leads the league with 5.0 assists per contest.
“Utah, good shooters, run a lot of different on-ball stuff, so we definitely have to do good pick-and-roll defense and defend the shooters well, which we did at times tonight,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said after the team defeated Colorado. “It’s going to be a tough game and the second game here is always a challenge, but I think that we’re ready.”
Since Utah joined the Pac-12, Arizona has never won more than two games in a row against the Utes. A win on Sunday would give the Wildcats three straight victories.
How to watch or follow the game
- When: Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020 at 12 p.m. MST
- Where: Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
- TV: Pac-12 Networks
- Radio: Derrick Palmer on KTUC 1400 AM or online at TuneIn
- Stats: In-game stats are available at Arizona Live Stats
- Twitter: Follow us at @AZDesertSwarm. You can also follow our editor at @RKelapire and our reporter at @KimDoss71 for coverage during the game and throughout the season.
Our coverage this week
- Arizona gets ready for the first road trip of the pandemic season
- Jessika Carrington, director of operations for Arizona women’s basketball, talks about the challenges of road trips this season
- Care for a recap of Arizona’s comeback win over Colorado? We have that covered.
- We have takeaways from the Arizona-Colorado game, too.