ARIZONA-UTAH scouting report
Utah (14-5, 3-4) at No. 1 Arizona (19-0, 6-0) • McKale Center • 6 p.m. today • Fox Sports 1 • 1290-AM, 990-AM (Spanish)
G T.J. McConnell (6-1 junior)
G Nick Johnson (6-3 junior)
F Aaron Gordon (6-9 freshman)
F Brandon Ashley (6-8 sophomore)
C Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0 sophomore)
G Brandon Taylor (5-10 sophomore)
G Delon Wright (6-5 junior)
F Dakarai Tucker (6-5 sophomore)
F Jordan Loveridge (6-6 sophomore)
C Jeremy Olsen (6-10 sophomore)
HOW THEY MATCH UP
The series: The Wildcats are the only team Utah hasn’t beaten in Pac-12 play since joining the conference in 2011-12. The Utes lead the series 28-25 overall but have lost the last seven against UA, including a first-round NCAA tournament game in 2008-09 and during nonconference matchups in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Utah overview: It wasn’t easy to tell who the Utes really were during nonconference play, when they whipped through a soft schedule and played just once on the road, but Utah proved itself for real with a sweep over USC and UCLA last weekend. They also led ASU at halftime on Thursday before losing 79-75. While returning forward Jordan Loveridge is back to lead the Utes offensively, the cast around him is markedly upgraded. Loveridge is strong on the pick-and-pop, and guard Delon Wright is an effective slasher who has made 65 percent of his two-point shots while collecting 7.5 rebounds in Pac-12 games. Brandon Taylor is effective at pushing the ball and nailing the open shots, and the Utes are anchored inside by the improving duo of Jeremy Olsen and Dallin Bachynski. Defensively, Utah mixes it up but can use a matchup zone that caused UA some trouble last season.
Status report: Utah: Forward Renan Lenz is expected to play after missing the past three games with a sprained ankle.
Utah, Delon Wright: While Loveridge leads the Utes in scoring and rebounding, Wright, a polished combo forward who leads Utah in many ways, is a particular concern because of his ability to affect the game with scoring, rebounding and passing.
Arizona, Brandon Ashley: Ashley had a memorable freshman experience against the Utes last season. He was one of several Wildcats to struggle against them defensively at McKale Center but posted a double-double at Utah in his first game after losing his starting job last season.
HE SAID IT
“Jordan Loveridge has done a great job of leading that team and … to me, Wright is their most important player because he does so many things. When you look at his numbers, they scare you. … We’re going to be tested on defense. They’re good in transition, and they’re efficient. They’re not jacking up a lot of threes. It’s going to come down to how much we can contain Delon and Loveridge. If those two are on, they can beat anybody in the country. (Big men Renan) Lenz, (Jeremy) Olsen and (Dallin) Bachynski, they’re pretty good because of their size.”
— UA assistant coach Book Richardson, who scouted the Utes
• When Arizona’s staff takes part in the annual Coaches vs. Cancer weekend by wearing sneakers today, they’ll be adding a personal touch.
The UA staff will also wear pins in support of Akron assistant coach Dan Peters, who has returned to the bench while fighting pancreatic cancer.
Peters is the father of Danny Peters, UA’s assistant director of basketball operations.
• The weekend scheduling threw a curve at both the Wildcats and Utes, but the coaches involved weren’t complaining.
Because they will leave Tuesday to face Stanford on Wednesday, the Wildcats opted to squeeze in the NCAA-mandated weekly day off on Friday, then returned to practice Saturday for their only full day of preparation.
But UA coach Sean Miller found them ready for Saturday’s return.
“Everyone was locked in and getting ready for” practice,” Miller said. “We had a good practice.”
Utah’s problem was different. With a UA gymnastics meet keeping the Utes out of McKale Center on Saturday, they opted to spend their off days practicing at the Phoenix Suns’ practice court at US Airways Center and didn’t arrive in Tucson until Saturday evening.
“I think it was good that we got into that (Suns) environment and practiced there a couple of times,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
• Upset about the fact that UA has not out-rebounded opponents in two of the past three games Thursday, Miller said Saturday it wasn’t just about them.
“Sometimes what happens is some teams are really challenging you in that area because they know that’s our strength,” Miller said. “It’s part of their disposition in an effort to win because they have to do a great job themselves of being physical and rebounding.”
At the same time, forward Brandon Ashley has averaged just 3.7 rebounds over the Wildcats’ past three games.
“We’ve backed off a little bit in that area, and I think Brandon in particular can rebound better than he has been recently,” Miller said. “He’s been starting to play well on offense, but he’s had a couple of games where he hasn’t rebounded as well as he did a couple of weeks ago. We talked to him about it. And our guards have to contribute. They can’t just wait for the three big guys to get the ball.”
• Shhh. Arizona’s free-throw shooting took another hit Thursday, when the Wildcats made just 57.1 percent of them, dropping their season average to 66.7 percent overall and 65.7 in Pac-12 games.
But there’s also a theory that talking about missed free throws only worsens the mental side of it. Certainly, junior guard Nick Johnson didn’t spend much time answering a question about missed free throws after Thursday’s game.
“I’m not concerned,” Johnson said. “I gotta make free throws. T.J. (McConnell) has to. We’ve just got to make free throws. We’re good.”
9 Utah’s national rank in fewest fouls per game (15.7), even after the Utes had 25 in a 79-75 loss at ASU on Saturday.
16Straight home wins for Arizona, dating to a 77-69 loss to California on Feb. 10, 2013.
58.6Percent of UA baskets that are scored via an assist.
Compiled by Bruce Pascoe