Dusan Ristic scored a season-high 18 points while Arizona's defense tightened up late in a 66-56 win over Utah in the Wildcats’ Pac-12 Conference home opener tonight at McKale Center.
The Wildcats outrebounded Utah 38-27 and shot 46.2 percent. While they struggled early to contain the Utes, who made seven of their first nine shots and hit 52 percent from the field in the first half, Arizona kept Utah to just 36.4-percent shooting after halftime.
Lauri Markkanen added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats while Parker Jackson-Cartwright had only four points but nine assists and three rebounds with no turnovers. Rawle Alkins added nine points and eight rebounds.
The win moved 17th-ranked Arizona to 14-2 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12 entering a game Saturday with Colorado at McKale Center. The Utes dropped to 10-4 and 1-1.
Up by eight at halftime, Arizona built leads of up to 13 points early in the second half before Utah tightened it up again. Three-pointers by JoJo Zamora and Sedrick Barefield cut Arizona’s lead to 46-39 with 13:12 to go.
Utah later pulled within four, 48-44, after Utah’s David Collette made a three-point play and Sedrick Barefield threw in a layup high off the glass. Things got even tighter with six minutes left, and Collette drew a foul from Lauri Markkanen under the basket, then came back for a basket that tightened UA’s lead to 51-48 – and prompted UA’s Sean Miller to call a timeout.
But Collette picked up his fourth foul shortly afterward and the Wildcats went back ahead 58-50 in his absence with 3:35 left, thanks in part to a corner 3-pointer by Rawle Alkins. The Utes never cut it to within two basket the rest of the way.
At the end of the first half, Jackson-Cartwright hit an 18-foot runner at the buzzer to give Arizona a 35-27 lead into halftime.
Playing his third game back from a high ankle sprain, Jackson-Cartwright also had seven assists and no turnovers in the half.
But early in the game, the Utes were in control. Utah took an early 15-10 lead, though Arizona later took advantage when Utah center David Collette picked up his second foul and sat out most of the first half.
Collette had scored six points with two rebounds through the first eight minutes, but didn't play again before halftime after picking up a foul on a layup by Alkins.
While Collette helped Utah built a 15-10 lead, the Wildcats then held the Utes scoreless for over six minutes, taking an 18-15 lead on a dunk from Chance Comanche that had the McKale Center crowd rise to its feet.
Alkins also keyed the run with a three-point play, making a reverse layup and picking up Collette’s second foul, then converting the free throw to give UA a 16-15 lead.
But while Markkanen made a 3-pointer to put UA up 21-18, the Utes cut it to 25-21 entering the four-minute mark and it stayed close the rest of the half.
Arizona was playing again without guard Allonzo Trier,who has now missed half of UA's regular season because of an NCAA suspension.
Trier dressed in street clothes and took some early warmups but was not in game gear. UA has not commented on his status since October, and the NCAA also will not.
Arizona is scheduled to play 31 regular-season games plus the Pac-12 Tournament (which is technically part of the regular season, and usually counted as one game for scheduling purposes).
So the UA-Utah game was technically No. 16 of 32 games, while the Wildcats' game Saturday against Colorado will be just past the halfway point -- and thus is a commonly speculated possible return date for Trier.
The NCAA cleared Trier to travel before UA's Dec. 3 game against Gonzaga in Los Angeles, according to UA coach Sean Miller, so he has been a consistent presence on the road and on the bench with the Wildcats, failing only to make UA's Dec. 10 trip to Missouri because of fall semester finals.
Earlier today, Draft Express put Trier at No. 56 on its 2017 mock NBA draft.