Utes Fall to #4 Arizona
The build up to the game was something we haven't seen on the hill in a couple of years. Utah was hosting one of the better teams in all of college basketball and excitement filled the air and the Huntsman Center before tip-off. As the game got started, it looked like a typical game when an inferior team hosts an elite squad that they want to beat. The Utes were making a lot of hustle plays on both ends of the floor and had a highlight dunk by Princeton Onwas, but on the scoreboard, Utah's biggest lead only got to 5 very briefly. Then, as both teams settled down and the emotion of the tip-off withered away, Arizona began to flex its muscles and dominated most of the first half. Guys like Gabe York stepped up big for the Wildcats; York finished the game with 15 points on 6-10 shooting. As the time ticked away at the end of the first half, Arizona hit a 3-pointer that felt like backbreaker for Utah. Luckily the ball was late by .5 seconds and didn't count, but the 9 point deficit still felt like a too big of a hole for the Utes to dig out of. Through 20 minutes, the Wildcats didn't bat an eye at the MUSS or the rest of the rowdy Huntsman crowd.
Utah did a great job at chipping away at the lead and came back from what was at one point a 12 point Arizona lead. Utah came all the way back to take a 52-52 lead. From there on it would go back and forth between the teams. Loveridge had the opportunity to put the Utes up by one with under a minute to play, but went 1/2 from the line. As the clocked ticked down, McConnell attempted to win the game in regulation for Arizona, but his shot bounced off the rim as time expired. In overtime, Utah had more chances to steal a win, but missed even more crucial free-throws. Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson iced the game by hitting both of his free-throws to give Arizona a 4 point victory.
In all reality, Utah had no business winning that game. Both Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge had off-games and never really got going. Loveridge went scoreless for much of the game, but showed up down the stretch of the game and in overtime to finish with 7 points. Delon Wright was uncharacteristically off his game, but still finished with the stat line of 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal. The stat that truly hurt the Utes was his 6 turnovers, including a costly turnover when he attempted to throw the ball to Bachynksi. One of the biggest positives Ute fans can take away from the game is that Utah out rebounded an elite rebounding team by 6. If that trend continues the rest of this 3-game home stand, the Utes will have a great chance of winning the next 2 games.
People rip on the Utes after every loss it seems, but to me there was a lot of positives to take from the game. First off, keep in mind this is an experienced Arizona that has won big games all year long against the likes of Duke and UCLA. The fact that Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright collectively had their worst game of the year and Utah still took the #4 team in the country to OT speaks volumes of the growth of this team. At the half, Arizona looked like they were about to blow Utah's doors off and Utah made a run that was led by Princeton Onwas and Kenneth Ogbe getting major minutes. Ute fans were upset by an overtime loss, but can you imagine the post game reaction if the rest of the game went like the first half did?
The Utes have some work to do to ensure postseason play, in my opinion. These next 2 home games are so crucial for the Utes. They have a tough Arizona State team coming in on Sunday and will face the Colorado Buffaloes the following Saturday. Making the big dance has always felt like a long shot this year and at this point, there is no reason to think they'll make the big dance. By winning the next two home games and showing well in the conference tournament should lock up a spot in the NIT. I do think the Utes will find themselves in the NIT when it's in all said and done.
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