LAS VEGAS – The Arizona Wildcats turned their recent history with Utah on its head today, drubbing the Utes with a defensive-fueled 71-39 win in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals at MGM Grand Garden.
While the Wildcats had trouble putting Utah away at McKale Center in January, and needed overtime to beat them last month in Salt Lake City, there were no such troubles Thursday.
Despite having less to play for on paper – the Wildcats are a potential No. 1 NCAA tournament seed no matter what they did this week while Utah desperately needed the win to keep up NCAA tournament hopes – Arizona came out focused and furious, its defense even beyond the level that made it the nation’s most efficient this season.
UA rattled off a 15-0 run early, keeping the Utes scoreless for eight minutes, and then kept on the pressure in the second half. They kept Utah without a field goal for a 13-minute span between the end of the first half and the second half.
The Utes' scars will go down in the Pac-12 Tournament record books, too. Utah set new tourney lows for fewest points (39), field goals (12) and field goal percentage (25.5).
The win moved UA to 29-3 overall and into a Pac-12 Tournament semifinal game Friday against the winner of this afternoon’s California-Colorado game. The Utes dropped to 20-11, probably out of the NCAA tournament hunt.
Cal handed UA its first loss of the season on Feb. 1, when forward Brandon Ashley was hurt, and UA fans were chanting “We want Cal” in the second half.
Nick Johnson led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points while T.J. McConnell had 13 points and four assists, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added seven points and eight rebounds.
After taking a 34-13 lead at halftime, the Wildcats quickly built a 46-15 lead after three-pointers by T.J. McConnell and Gabe York and if the Utes’ spirit wasn’t crushed already, they were then.
UA continued to lead comfortably the rest of the game and, more important for the immediate future, rested their regulars heavily in the second half.
In the first half, Arizona’s defense fueled an early 15-0 run and led to the Wildcats a 34-13 halftime lead.
The 13 points set a new first-half Pac-12 Tournament record for fewest points by a team, breaking the Utes' old record of 15 set last season in a loss to Oregon.
Utah shot just 26.3 percent from the field and picked up only one offensive rebound, while the Wildcats shot 50 percent and had 20 total rebounds, seven of them on offense.
The game was initially a defensive struggle on both ends, with Arizona leading just 7-6 after five minutes, but the Wildcats kept Utah scoreless for the next eight minutes while they tore the game open.
During the Wildcats’ run, Utah was 0 for 5 from the field and had four turnovers. UA also crushed the Utes on the boards, outrebounding the Utes by 13 for the half. Among the offense created during the run were two three-pointers from Nick Johnson and a dunk from Kaleb Tarczewski.
Johnson wound up leading the Wildcats in first half scoring with 12 points.