If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100s of times: being on the road is all about survival.
Win by one or 12 and you’re golden. Arizona won by 12 against host Utah, 94-82, in Salt Lake City and well everything in the world is fine.
“It’s a fight every night,” Sean Miller told reporters after the game in Salt Lake, where Miller mentioned the crowd was a good one but one that may have crossed the line a time or two by “saying crazy things.”
On television you could see many students wearing shirts that referenced the FBI investigation.
Welcome to the road where verbal abuse and taunts will be escalated. Hell, remember Candygate from a few years back. One student dressed as a candy machine.
“It was a good, nasty crowd,” Miller said.
Such is life.
What Thursday night’s game proves is nothing – NOTHING – will be easy even for a team where, gulp, Bill Walton said Arizona is the favorite to win it all because it has the most talent.
Take that for what it’s worth …
Now that you’ve gotten off the floor from that news, Arizona played like a team capable of winning a national title or getting to the Final Four in the first half. The second half? Not so much but it has won its ninth straight game.
“There were things we did very well,” Miller said in his postgame radio show, “and there were times, especially in the first eight minutes of the second, where I’m not sure we were playing with great energy. When you don’t do that and you’re on the road you’re going to get what we got.”
And that was a pretty good scare. Arizona’s 14-point halftime lead eventually shrank to … nothing (70-70) by the final six minutes of the game; and again in the final four minutes tied at 77.
“It’s not easy to win on the road anywhere in the country,” Miller told reporters.
In fact, it was a game Arizona could have easily lost. Allonzo Trier took just five shots, finishing with a season-low-tying seven points. Miller said Trier didn’t “have his typical day but he played the game the right way.”
And after having a pretty good first half, Parker Jackson-Cartwright had six points in the second. He finished with 19 points, one shy of his career high. And Rawle Alkins added 22 points.
Once again, Arizona relied on freshman big man Deandre Ayton, who had 24 points and 14 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season.
“He played with a lot of physicality,” Miller said. “At halftime he didn’t have his normal numbers (five points, six rebounds).”
But he picked up the pace in the second half and Arizona was able to go on a 17-5 run to end the game. Utah missed seven of its final nine shots to end the game.
Miller said his Cats are still learning on defense, but getting better. And, well, that’s a good sign.
A big advantage for Arizona was the rebounding advantage and free throws. UA outrebounded Utah 46-23, including 14-4 on the offensive end. Arizona hit 30 of 36 free throws and Utah hit 18 of 22.