The early leader in the Pac-12 Conference will face the last-place team Saturday night when No. 6 Arizona takes on Utah in Tucson, Ariz.
The Wildcats (13-1, 3-0 Pac-12) are coming off a 76-55 home victory against Colorado on Thursday night, when they outscored the Buffaloes 44-27 after halftime. Utah (8-8, 1-5) has lost four consecutive games, all in conference.
“I told the guys, ‘Hey, the seasons are long. These games are tough. They’re up and down,'” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said after the Colorado game. “I was really proud of the way they responded in the second half. And any time you win a conference game by this margin, you’re going to take it.”
Lloyd is using a tight eight-man rotation since Kim Aiken Jr. has missed the past seven games for personal reasons. One of those rotational bench players, Pelle Larsson, is coming off arguably his best game at Arizona, and now he’ll be playing his former team. Larsson averaged 8.2 points and shot 46.3 percent from 3-point range as a freshman for the Utes last season.
Larsson, who missed the bulk of preseason workouts due to a broken foot, might now be rounding into form. He had 12 points, five rebounds and made 2 of 3 shots from beyond the arc against the Buffaloes.
“Pelle is really coming on,” Lloyd said. “I really feel that and see that. I just want him to tighten up some of his decision-making and his passes just a little bit. I think he’s really about to turn the corner and is going to be a significant contributor the second half of the season.”
Utah’s most recent game was a 77-61 home loss to Washington State last Saturday. The Utes were scheduled to play Thursday night at Arizona State, but the game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the Sun Devils’ program.
“We always have to look at the positive in everything, and I think the positive is we are going to be able to have four days of practice here where we can add some new things and just hone in on some things,” said Utah coach Craig Smith.
“Because clearly we don’t have some things down to a T, and I am not sure everybody is executing the way that we need to do to be successful in the Pac-12.”
It will be harder for the Utes to be successful without leading scorer Branden Carlson (13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds per game), who is out after undergoing an appendectomy last Saturday.
The absence of the 7-footer leaves the Utes short-handed in the frontcourt against the talented Arizona big men.
While wing Bennedict Mathurin leads the Wildcats with 18.5 points per game, Azuolas Tubelis (14.7 ppg) and shot-blocking specialist Christian Koloko (13.1) are forces down low, combining to average 13.5 rebounds.
For Utah, David Jenkins Jr. and Both Gach each average 10.9 points.
But it’s hard to see the Utes having enough firepower against Arizona, which dropped to No. 2 nationally in scoring after Thursday’s night game against Colorado. The Wildcats are averaging 88.9 points and excel in transition.
“True colors come out during adversity, right?” Smith said of his team. “So we are going to find out.”
–Field Level Media