Tommy Lloyd promised that Arizona wasn’t going to waltz into its Pac-12 opener at Utah like it owned the place. Instead the Wildcats almost looked like they didn’t want to be there.
The UA played by far their worst game of the season, trailing by as many as 20 in an 81-66 loss to the Utes on Thursday night in Salt Lake City. It was only the second time the Wildcats (6-1) have lost their first conference game since the Pac-12 expanded from 10 teams in 2011-12, the other coming in 2020 at Stanford.
It was Utah’s first-ever win over a Top-5 Arizona team and its first victory against a Top-5 opponent since beating No. 1 Alabama in 2002.
Playing for the first time in eight days after winning the Maui Invitational, Arizona shot a season-low 35.2 percent and were an abysmal 4 of 28 from 3-point range. Big men Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis combined for 42 points, with reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Ballo going 10 of 12 from the field for 22 points, but the Wildcat backcourt was almost nonexistent.
Kerr Kriisa, who had a triple-double at Utah last February, was 1 of 9 for four points (along with nine assists) while Pelle Larsson missed all five of his shots. Courtney Ramey had 11, but on 13 shots, and the bench guards and wings were a combined 1 of 9 from the field.
Utah (6-2) shot only 43.7 percent but made nine 3s, five by 7-footer Branden Carlson. The senior, who was 6 of 16 from outside entering the night, had 22 points while Rollie Worster had 12 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
Arizona trailed 42-27 at the half, shooting just 27 percent and turning it over 11 times in the first half. The Wildcats made its first three shots and had 14 points by the first media timeout after having no more than seven in any 4-minute chunk in the first half.
An 8-0 run got the deficit to single digits, then a 3-point play by Ballo got Arizona within 52-46 with 13:36 remaining. But the Wildcats went almost four minutes without a field goal while Utah hit two more 3s to make it 61-47, then a 4-point play by Gabe Madsen and a Eurostep drive by Marco Anthony made it 70-50 with 7:34 to go.
Arizona went on a 10-0 run and got as close as 73-64 with 4:15 remaining thanks to eight straight by Ramey, including back-to-back 3s, but the Wildcats missed their next five shots.
Utah led 10-2 as Arizona didn’t make its first field goal until Ramey drained a 3 almost four minutes in. The Wildcats started 3 of 16 from the field but were down only six before the Utes went on a 17-4 run to lead 39-20 with 3:01 left before the break.
Arizona only made consecutive baskets once in the first half, its longest run a 5-0 burst by Tubelis to get the Wildcats within 39-25.
The UA returns home Sunday to host winless Cal in its Pac-12 home opener.