The no. 7 Arizona Wildcats (24-3, 13-2) will invade the Jon M. Huntsman Center to take on the no. 13 ranked Utes (22-5, 12-3) on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. MT. In the last matchup between these two teams, Arizona turned what was billed to be a Pac-12 power showdown into a rout in a 69-51 win for the Wildcats. The Wildcats are 9-1 since, their only loss coming by three points on the road at rival Arizona State.
Arizona pass first point guard, TJ McConnell played one of the best games of his career in the previous matchup against the Utah. The Utes came out sharp in the desert starting off on a 10-2 run, Arizona needed someone to step up and take over the game, and McConnell did just that. The senior guard scored 16 points to go with 3 rebounds and 6 assists. McConnell completely controlled the game on the offensive end for Arizona and Utah did not have an answer for him. The good news is the odds are against McConnell having a career game yet again, let alone in enemy territory. Utah will need key in on McConnell defensively to ensure we don't see a repeat performance from him.
The Utes were led by Delon Wright in the last game as he finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal. Brandon Taylor also provided a punch, scoring 12 points on 4-7 shooting from beyond the three point line. Jakob Peltl was held in check finishing with 6 points and 4 rebounds on only six shots.
Arizona forward Stanley Johnson will need to be guarded closely. The 6'7" 245 lb. freshman is averaging 14.5 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. Johnson was held scoreless in the first half of the last game before erupting for 18 second half points. The Utes will need to make Johnson settle for jump shots and keep him from driving to the basket. In the second half last game, It seemed Johnson flipped a switch and became more aggressive in driving toward the basket. With his size and speed there aren't many people who can stop him when he decides to take it into the lane. It would behoove the Utes to try and keep the ball out of Johnson's hands and keep him on the perimeter.
A key for Utah to have success in this game, is getting Poeltl involved early. The 7- foot center seems to have big games when he is able to get into a rythym early and establish some confidence scoring the ball. Early in Thursday's game against Arizona State, it looked like part of the game plan was to feed Poeltl down low and give him some early opportunites to score. That plan seemed to kind of go out the window when the it became apparent the Utes could do anything they wanted against the Sun Devils and Poeltl finished with only five shot attempts, though he converted four of them for 8 points. Against the Wildcats on Sunday Poeltl needs to get more shots close to the basket for the Utes to have a chance. If Poeltl can get off ten shot attempts, the perimeter will open up for guys like Dakari Tucker, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor to get good outside looks and the probability of Utah pulling off an upset will dramatically increase.
The last time these two teams got together, Arizona dominated Utah on the boards. Arizon outrebound the Utes 28-25 at the McKale Center in Tucson. Just a week ago against Oregon, the Utes were outrebounded by the Ducks 35-31. Thursday against Arizona State, the Utes out rebounded the Sun Devils 26-17. The lesson beingwhoever finishes the game with the most rebounds usually comes out the victor. Utah was able to get a nice tune up on Thursday against the Sun Devils, but it will be important to carry the same aggresive mentality into Saturday's game. The Utes must crash the boards, play with energy and out hustle the Wildcats for loose balls. The Utes will need maximum effort from guys like Dallin Bachynski, Kyle Kuzma and Chris Reyes down low agains the like of Arizona's Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The key matchup in the game will be Poeltl against Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski. The 7-foot Arizona center finished the last game between these two teams with 7 points and 5 rebounds, but more importantly did a great job defending Poeltl and limiting his impact on the game. Tarczewski has been up and down all season but has been a force when he is on his game. Tarczewki has been on a nice little run the last four games. He has scored in double digits in three of the last four and is shooting 71.4% over his last four games. All three of Arizona's losses have come on the road and in all three Tarczewski has struggled. Poeltl needs to play with strength and continue the block party he started on Thursday night. Whoever wins the battle down low will likely win the game.
This game is Utah's chance to avenge the 18 point beating they took in January from Arizona. A win will pull the Utes into a tie with the Wildcats for first place in the Pac-12. The Utes will need to come out focused with a total team effort to pull off the upset. Fans should arrive early to get the Huntsman Center rocking from the tip. It will be nationally televised in prime time on a Saturday night. This is Utah's time to shine. If you aren't able to score tickets to the game, you can tune into ESPN at 7 p.m. MT or listen on ESPN700 where Bill Riley and Jimmy Soto will have the call.