University of Arizona vs Utah

Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, left, and center Kaleb Tarczewski close down Utah guard Delon Wright in their game at McKale Center on Jan. 17. The Wildcats won the game 69-51.

Really, the narrative hasn’t changed much since the last Utah-Arizona meeting.

The Pac-12’s best teams, both ranked highly, fighting to finish in first place.

That game didn’t really go like anyone thought it would. In one of Arizona’s best days offensively of the season, the Wildcats whupped the Utes, and won by 18 points at McKale Center.

After that game, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said: “This was a bit of an eye-opener for us.”

Since then, both teams have been, for the most part, just as dominant as before that game, if not more-so.

Arizona has won nine games, on average, by 22.8 points per game, with a close loss to ASU mixed in.

Utah has won eight games, on average, by 22.9 points per game, although they lost to UCLA by 10 and Oregon by 11.

So now, the Utes (22-5, 12-3 Pac-12) are a game back of Arizona (25-3, 13-2) in the standings, in need of a win tonight.

In Utah, it certainly has the feel of a big game.

This one should certainly be a closer one — Vegas had the line open with Utah the 1.5 point favorite. It's on at 7 p.m. on ESPN. 

I’ll get into a little more analysis in a minute, but as for what I think happens…

PREDICTION: Arizona by six. 

WHO TO KNOW: Delon Wright (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.3 spg, .526 FG%) is, right now, probably the leading candidate for Pac-12 player of the year. He’s 6-5, a point guard, and does it all for Utah. Brandon Taylor (10.5 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.2 3-pointers, .444 3-point %) might be the best shooter in the Pac-12. Freshman big Jakob Poeltl (8.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg) is a stud defensively in the low post, although he doesn’t contribute much on offense lately. Jordan Loveridge (9.9 ppg, 1.9 3-pointers) is inconsistent, but talented. The freshman Brekott Chapman (6.6 ppg) has shown flashes this season, and sophomore forward Chris Reyes (4.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg) has started at times.

Stats and observations

  • First, read this by PacHoops Adam Butler, some great stat knowledge, and much deeper look at this game than you’ll probably find anywhere else.
  • Looking at Utah’s three Pac-12 losses (Arizona, UCLA, Oregon), I learned a few things.
  • 1) They were out-rebounded, on average by 9.0 rebounds. It was particularly bad against Arizona, when the Wildcats won that battle 40-19. The Utes have the second-best rebounding margin (+5.2 per game) in the Pac, behind Arizona.
  • 2) Utah turned the ball over 13.7 times per game, while getting 11.7 assists per game. Their season averages: 11.0 turnovers, 15.0 assists.
  • 3) Opponents shot a combined 60 percent at the rim and 45.1 percent on 2-point jumpers. On the season, opponents shoot just 50.9 percent at the rim (best in the Pac-12), and, amazingly, 16.8 percent of those shots are blocked. On two-point jumpers, teams have shot just 31.9 percent.
  • It’s not ahrd to see that defense was the main issue in those three games. Against Arizona, Krystkowiak decided to try a gimmicky zone instead of sticking with what the Utes are good at (a Sean Miller staple: never altering the game-plan).
  • Utah is especially good defending the three, which comes from their ability to defend the paint. That 16.8 blocked shot percentage is easily the best in the conference, and it allows Utah to take more risks on the perimeter. Even in those three losses, opponents shot just 25.6 percent on 3-pointers.
  • Arizona shot just 1 for 9 from three that game, and 0-for-8 on 2-point jumpers, but still won by double digits because of a 7-for-14 mark at the rim, and for holding the Utes to 39 percent shooting. It didn’t help that Wright struggled — 10 points, 4-of-9 shooting, 7 assists, four turnvoers — but they’ve won on bad Wright nights in the past.
  • For Arizona, the biggest chance has been recent for the Wildcats. As in, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York might be playing their best basketball of the season.
  • York’s offensive rating of 208 against Colorado, according to KenPom, was the best single-game mark for the Wildcats this season. He had 14 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block and made four 3-pointers in just 23 minutes.
  • Tarczewski, after the, probably, worst game of his life against ASU, has averaged 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and shot 68.5 percent from the field.
  • They both didn’t contribute much last time, so I won’t go so far as to say they’ll be the difference in this one, but if Arizona’s going to win this game, I think one or both of them will be standouts. If they lose, one or both of them will have struggled.
  • Lastly, this game will be a nice test to see who is in the lead for Pac-12 player of the year. Delon Wright has the edge right now. And I don’t know how/if what happens in this game affects either one’s candidacy. Wright can probably afford a bad game a little more than McConnell can. Neither has been particularly impressive recently, though.
  • McConnell’s last five games (5-0): 10.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 7.2 apg, 2.2 steals, 2.4 to and shooting 52.7% from the field on 7.2 shots per game.
  • Delon Wright last five games (4-1): 14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.8 spg, 2.0 to, 1.2 threes, 50% from the field, 9.6 shots per game