The No. 8-ranked Runnin' Utes had an opportunity to show the Pac-12 and the country they were ready for prime time. No. 10-ranked Arizona had other ideas, extending their now 32-game home winning streak and blowing out Utah in the second half 69-51.
Utah jumped out to a 4-0 lead on steals and Arizona miscues, with senior guard Delon Wright scoring on a dunk and a layup. Then back-to-back 3-pointers by Wright and running mate Brandon Taylor pushed the Utes lead to 10-2. Utah looked to be in control of the game. That's when Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell, as he did against Gonzaga earlier in the year, put the Wildcats on his shoulders.
Behind McConnell, Arizona surged back. McConnell scored 12 points at the half and dished out 2 assists to help tie the game then take the lead. Utah guard Brandon Taylor could simply not contain McConnell, who drove through Utah's defense with ease and pulled up for short bankers and soft jumpers. Wright, after scoring three quick baskets (for seven points), scored just one more in the half on a tip-in. Arizona led at the break 31-26 after being down as much as 10-2 and 15-8.
In the second half, it was all Wildcats. After a Wright free throw pulled Utah a point closer, T.J. McConnell hit another basket to push the lead farther out. The Arizona point guard held the Wildcats together long enough to get their leading scorer, Stanley Johnson, back into the game.
Held scoreless in the first half, Johnson took over in the second, finishing the game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and a blocked shot.
Utah will need to rebound from this game... literally, as Arizona out-rebounded the league leaders in rebound margin 41-20. Worse yet, the Wildcats held a 17-5 advantage on the offensive glass. The Utes seemed sluggish on the boards, slow to react, while the Arizona attacked the glass. Johnson, Brandon Ashley, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined for more rebounds (25) than the entire Utah team, and Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson combined for more offensive boards (8) than the entire Utes squad. Even when they could corral the rebounds, players like junior center Kaleb Tarczewski would tap a missed shot out for another chance.
On the offensive side of the ball, Utah reverted to passing the ball around the perimeter and tossing up late clock shots or even turning the ball over on shot clock violations. No one on the Utes squad seemed to want to take the shot or make the play, seemingly looking for a teammate to do it. No one, as McConnell did with Arizona, put the Utes on their shoulders. Instead, Utah's offense floundered.
Utah was led by 12 points from Brandon Taylor. Taylor shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range, accounting for all of his points. Wright, who had nine points in the first half scored just one more point in the second to finish with 10, as well as seven assists.
Junior forward Jordan Loveridge, held scoreless in the first half, came alive late in the second and brought the Utes back to within 10. Loveridge finished with 11 points on 3-of-5 from downtown, but it was too little too late, especially when combined with the team's rebounding woes. Utah simply couldn't sustain the run, and the home crowd let them know about it with chants of "overrated."
Utah drops to 14-3 on the season, 4-1 in conference play. Arizona improved to 16-2 overall, 4-1 in the Pac-12, pulling into a tie with Utah for first place in the Conference of Champions.
While Utah split the Arizona road trip, which is good, they get good news next week, as they return home. Utah next welcomes the Washington schools to the Jon M. Huntsman Center, where the Utes are undefeated on the season, starting with Washington State (9-7, 3-1) at 7 p.m. MT on Jan. 21. The Washington Huskies (12-4, 1-3) follow at 6:30 p.m. MT on Jan. 25.