Utah Utes forward Dakarai Tucker (14) dribbles the ball as he is defended by Arizona Wildcats guard Gabe York. (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan. 26, 2014
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Utah jumped on Arizona early and was able to hang with the nation's top-ranked team well into the second half.
But as the game wore on, the Utes, like so many teams this season, wore down and were unable to keep up with the Wildcats.
Utah led by 10 in the first half Sunday night, but faded down the stretch in a 65-56 loss to Arizona, which set a school record with its 20th straight win.
"To use a football analogy, it's a team that runs the ball," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They grind on you and grind on you and eventually the defense gets tired of being on the field at the end of the game. There's a lot to be said for the way they play."
Unlike its previous game against Colorado, Arizona (20-0, 7-0 Pac-12) struggled early, falling into an early 10-point hole as the Wildcats struggled to figure out Utah's various defenses.
The Wildcats eventually managed to decipher what the Utes were doing and wore them down with relentless defensive pressure and a dominating performance on the glass.
Arizona shot 3 of 14 from 3-point range and 40 percent overall, but made up for it with 20 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second-chance points. The Wildcats had a 40-29 rebounding advantage overall and outscored Utah 38-24 in the paint.
Nick Johnson had 22 points, hitting some big shots down the stretch to help Arizona pull away.
Aaron Gordon scored 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting, but had seven of his 12 rebounds on the offensive glass and blocked two shots, including one during Arizona's decisive run.
Fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also provided a lift with his hustle, scoring 10 points while grabbing five of his seven rebounds on the offensive end.
No, it wasn't easy, but the Wildcats pulled it out just like they have all season for the longest winning streak in the history of the storied program.
"To set a record at Arizona, it's so meaningful because of the history here," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "It's special."
Utah (14-6, 3-5) jumped out to an early lead and kept it close before wearing down in the closing minutes, unable to keep the athletic Wildcats off the glass or from scoring inside to remain winless on the road.
"They were killing us on offensive rebounds," Wright said. "We didn't give them enough body to get the rebounds and we couldn't score. I'm not sure what happened."
Utah has been good at home, earning all 14 of its wins in Salt Lake City, including a 74-69 victory over then-No. 25 UCLA on Jan. 18.
The road has been a different story for the Utes. They've yet to win away from the Huntsman Center, the previous loss 79-75 to Arizona State on Thursday after Utah allowed the Sun Devils to shoot 59 percent in the second half.
Utah clearly wasn't intimidated by Arizona or the atmosphere of playing the nation's top-ranked team in one of college basketball's most difficult road arenas.
The Utes opened with a 12-2 run, punctuated by Wright's steal and fast-break layup, and the Wildcats couldn't get anything to go in, missing shots at the rim and perimeter while starting 1 for 12.
"We jumped out early and came out with a lot of energy like coach wanted," Utah forward Dakaral Tucker said.
A hustle play by Hollis-Jefferson got Arizona rolling.
Scrambling after his own missed free throw, the freshman dived on the floor and hit the ball off Wright before falling out of bounds.
With the crowd cheering instead of groaning with every possession, the Wildcats found their rhythm, using a 12-0 run to take the lead.
Both teams settled down after that and traded baskets and physical play the rest of the half. Arizona went up 33-26 at halftime after Kaleb Tarczewski threw down a two-handed rebound slam at the buzzer.
The Utes didn't back down, scoring the first six points of the second half and hitting seven of their first 11 shots while the Wildcats managed to it close despite continuing to struggle on offense.
Gordon helped turn the tide for the Wildcats.
The freshman missed 10 of his first 12 shots, many of them on wild drives to the basket, but kept playing hard.
"Those two guys bring a lot to the table," Miller said of Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson. "Their athleticism and physicality and just big-moment plays. The bigger the game, the more competitive the game, those guys are first-year players but they're really at home when it's like that."