Most Utah fans were expecting a solid victory on Thursday night over Arizona State. What they got was a beat down, as Utah opened up two cans of whoop-ass on the hapless Sun Devils, 83-41. In fact, the performance was so dominant that Utes star guard Delon Wright played just 21 minutes and still finished with 12 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocked shots.
But what did we learn, boys and girls, especially with Arizona looming on Saturday?
Utah center Jakob Poeltl was made more a focus in this game. The ball touched his hands more against Arizona State than it has in some time, especially in the Oregon game, where Utah hogged up 30 three-point shots. Poeltl got five shots, made four (needs still more), and finished with eight points, six rebounds, and six blocked shots. His six blocks is tied for ninth most in a single game in Utes history. (David Foster holds both the record and second place with 10 and nine. The last player to get six was Jason Washburn in 2012.) Bottom line: the more touched Poeltl gets in the post, the better the flow of the offense.
Press Man Coverage:
Utah pressed more in this game than in any previous Pac-12 contest, leading to a 21-7 points off turnovers disparity. They didn't wait, and they continued to press even with a 30-point lead. This allowed Delon Wright to do what he does best, steal the basketball, leading to the brilliant hashtag #SwipeWright. Arizona may have too many athletes to be able to do this, and T.J. McConnell is a Cousey Award finalist for a reason. But Utah has to turn up the defensive heat right off the bat Saturday and keep it burning all game long. Utah can't let down, and they can't let up on the defensive end. The Runnin' Utes can beat this Arizona squad, but the Wildcats are the most consistent team in the league, possibly in the country. To beat them, Utah can't make mistakes. To beat Arizona, Utah will have to play really well... for an entire game, and it begins with the defensive end of the floor.
Covenant of the Arc:
Against Oregon, the Utes jacked up 29 three-point shots in a poor offensive effort, making just eight of them (27.6 percent). Utah still leads the Pac-12 in three-point field goal percentage by a good margin (40.4 percent), but Utah learned last night that they don't need junior point guard Brandon Taylor, junior forward Jordan Loveridge, or reserve guard/forward Dakarai Tucker to shoulder the entire load.
Utah shot 8-of-14 from behind the arc against Arizona State, with no single player taking more than three shots. Forward Chris Reyes went 1-of-1, along with D. Wright, Isaiah Wright, and Kenneth Ogbe, accounting for half of the Utes made three-pointers. Taylor went 1-of-3, but all shots were in the flow of the offense, none forced or late clock desperation heaves. If every player gets their shots in the flow of the offense, it spreads the wealth and even takes the burden off the big shooters like Taylor and Tucker.
Wizard of Og:
Utah reserve guard Kenneth Ogbe got some run last night after missing several games this season due to injury. Ogbe scored 11 points on 2-for-2 from the field, 1-of-1 from deep, as well as 6-of-8 from the free throw line. Best of all, the 6-6 guard was attacking the basket, so much so that Sun Devil center Eric Jacobsen mauled him on his way for what was a sure basket. The Utes will need to attack the interior of the Arizona defense in much the same way. If Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley spend some time riding the pine, it only helps the Utes deeper into the game. If fully healthy and playing with the kind of confidence he did against Arizona State, Ogbe could be a factor off the bench for Utah in Saturday's game.
Utah is second in the Pac-12 in blocked shots (5.11 per game), and the Utes let Arizona State know it last night, recording 11 as a team. As noted above, Utah's Austrian 7-footer really did some work on the defensive side of the court, notching six blocks (possibly more by some accounts). Poeltl's 51 blocks on the season place him seventh on the all-time single season list, passing former Utes center Jason Washburn. The import big is just three swats from taking over sixth place from Luke Nevill, and five away from passing Mitch Smith for fifth.
If Poeltl can protect the rim against Arizona, the Wildcats might lose a little composure. Arizona is perhaps the most poised team in the league. They never get rattled. They never get too high or too low. Utah needs to punch the Wildcats right in the mouth from the opening tip, and closing off the rim would help a lot, as well as lead to fast-break opportunities.