The No. 13-ranked Runnin' Utes once again face the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats this Saturday. Blocku.com thought it a good idea to check with our friends over at AzDesertSwarm.com to answer a few questions about the matchup with the Wildcats in a game that amounts to the Pac-12 regular season championship.
Q: Ute fans like to reminisce about the 1998 Tournament win over the Wildcats, but would like to forget their last Tournament loss to the Wildcats in 2009. Was that 2009 victory a turning point for the Wildcat program bringing them back to a national power, or did it happen the following year as Sean Miller took over?
Brian Doherty: Sean Miller really got the program back on track. The 2009 run was a nice consolation for a program that had been regressing but in reality Russ Pennell was just a stop gap and that 2009 team was exposed for what they were in the Sweet 16 vs Louisville. The first year wasn't pretty but since 2011 you've seen how fast Miller has gotten Arizona back among the nation's elite and brought recruiting back to where it was under Lute Olson. If Pennell had stayed after 2009 I can almost assure you Arizona wouldn't be near where they are today.
Q: With the second game being played in Salt Lake City. What ways might the Wildcats struggle in the Huntsman Center?
Brian Doherty: Defensively the Wildcats have been more susceptible on the road than at home. Whether that is just feeding off the home crowd, I can't say, but in the first game Utah offensively really struggled to get things going the last 30 minutes or so. Utah, obviously, has a tremendous home crowd, and if the Utes get into a rhythm early, I think Arizona will struggle to stop the momentum in the Huntsman the way they did in McKale.
Q: Will TJ McConnell be in a zone again? Or can the Utes keep him from having the same type of game?
Brian Doherty: That was T.J. McConnell's best game of the season and quite possibly as a Wildcat. Expecting him to duplicate that game is highly unlikely. He might not have a better game all season long. Utah will almost surely reduce his impact in the second meeting, but that alone may not be enough for a win. T.J has done a great job all year of finding ways to make a big impact on each game. Some nights it's on defense, others it's scoring, others it's setting up teammates.
Q: What kept Stanley Johnson off the scoreboard in the first half of the last match up, and what did he do differently in the second half to lead to his 18 points?
Brian Doherty: He just started going to the basket more in the second half. He's had a handful of games this year where he comes out in the first half and settles for jumpshots with little success. Then it's as if he almost remembers he's a physical specimen who can get to the basket almost at will and he turns it back on. Still the Utes present a formidable defensive threat and he'll have to be very good to get 18 on the road again vs the Utes.
Q: What other players, besides McConnell and Johnson, have been playing well, and who could have a big impact for the Wildcats versus the Utes much like Brandon Ashley did in the last game?
Brian Doherty: Much maligned Kaleb Tarczewski has had a few quality performances leading up to the UCLA game last Saturday then predictably wasn't great. Still Tarczewski did well defending Jakob Poeltl in the first matchup. The front court of Arizona has to play well on the road for Arizona to be successful. Too often in road losses Arizona has seen disappearing acts from Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and to a lesser extent Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If that trio doesn't show up Saturday, Arizona's chances are slim.