There wasn’t a single moment during Arizona’s win over Utah on Thursday afternoon when the Wildcats were dominant.
There wasn’t a single moment, because there were about 450 of them, in a 40-minute, 71-39 Arizona win in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
Attila the Hun was kinder than Arizona was on Thursday. Genghis Khan was gentler.
At least they left some dignity before they lopped off heads.
“They just took the life out of us,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said, and, somehow, his head was still attached.
The Wildcats held the Utes to 13 points in the first half on 26.3 percent shooting, and then held them to 25 percent in the second half.
The two teams were tied at six 1 minute 37 seconds into the game, and from there, the scoring graph looked like two rivers diverging from the same confluence and streaming in vastly different directions. Arizona’s shot upwards, Utah’s stayed flat and steady, points trickling in slowly, almost comically so.
Utah guard Prince Onwas dropped in a layup with 3:47 left in the first half, and the Utes didn’t have another field goal until Delon Wright laid it in at the 10:45 mark of the second half.
Don’t worry about counting: That’s 692 seconds of game action, or almost 20 full shot clocks. If Utah was given a 20-point shot at the buzzer, it still would’ve lost by 12.
“We got punched in the mouth by a very good basketball team,” Krystkowiak said. “We saw Arizona at their finest defensively. They were geared up.”
It was the kind of win that made you wonder, “What is Arizona’s ceiling?” After a game like this, one that injects all the confidence in the world — one game after that confidence was damaged in a surprise season-ending loss at Oregon — maybe there is no ceiling.
This is not the time to rain all over the Utes, though.
They are a good team, light years ahead of where they were when Krystkowiak took over. Utah has made major strides, winning 21 games this year, the same number as the last two years combined.
After the loss, Utah’s players and Krystkowiak were downtrodden but not defeated, as if they’d already processed the loss by halftime.
And in the ultimate compliment to Sean Miller and the Wildcats, Krystkowiak said that Arizona is the ideal blueprint.
“As I told the players, that’s where we want to be,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re a long way away from being that kind of team.”
They’re going to have to get meaner. And nastier.
And taller and quicker and better.
But mainly, meaner and nastier, as the Wildcats have become. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon may smile a lot, and Nick Johnson could be cast in a romantic comedy, but don’t think for one second they’re not as cruel as cruel can be.
“Hey man, this is basketball; you can’t feel sorry for anybody,” Hollis-Jefferson said, flashing that smile. “They tie their shoes and lace them up like we do. Whatever happens once you get on the court is fair game.”
Gordon said it starts from the top down, from Miller’s almost manic insistence on “honoring the process” and near-rabid focus on putting defense first, to Johnson’s and T.J. McConnell’s self-discipline.
It’s trickled down.
“I never feel bad for them,” Attila the Gordon said, flashing that snarl. “I feel good for us.”
On Thursday, there was plenty to feel good about.