LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Utah’s young and overzealous group entered the game talking about defense and rebounding being the key to victory. They were right: About Arizona.
The Wildcats held the Utes to a Pac-12 tournament record 25.5 percent from the field in their resounding 71-39 victory over the shell-shocked Utes, who like Arizona do not have a senior in their primary rotation. Utah also set Pac-12 tournament futility records for fewest points and fewest field goals made (12).
Arizona also tied the tournament record for largest margin of victory (32 points).
The Wildcats also pounded Utah on the boards 37-23, including a 9-7 advantage on the offensive glass, a point of emphasis by Utah coach Larry Krystowiak.
Arizona will try to continue its momentum against Colorado or Cal in the semifinals tomorrow night at 6 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which has become McKale Center North with the overwhelming amount of Arizona fans.
The Utes can stew over this for next year when leading scorers Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor are expected to return. The trio averaged a combined 42 points entering the game. They finished with only seven Thursday on 1-of-16 shooting from the field going against defensive hounds T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Also largely overlooked this season is the improvement on defense by sophomore guard Gabe York, whose minutes were limited as a freshman because of his lack of ability defending the ball. York helped defensively on Wright and Taylor on Thursday afternoon and tied Aaron Gordon a team-high two steals.
Conversely, the Wildcats shot 52.9 percent from the field, led by Johnson and McConnell. They combined to shoot 10 of 14 from the field for 27 points. They also combined for seven rebounds and seven assists with four turnovers.
Arizona’s bench — led by Hollis-Jefferson and Jordin Mayes — almost outscored Utah’s starters. Hollis-Jefferson, Mayes, Eliott Pitts and Chris Johnson (Nick’s brother) combined for 18 points. Utah’s starters recorded only 21.