Arizona-Utah Preview


Arizona hid offensive inconsistencies behind stellar defense throughout its record-setting start, including in the first meeting with Utah three weeks ago.

The team hasn't been as fortunate recently, and coach Sean Miller realizes the offense needs to come around sooner rather than later.

The fourth-ranked Wildcats look to avoid dropping three straight road games for the first time in four years by winning a ninth consecutive meeting with the Utes on Wednesday night.

Arizona (23-2, 10-2) ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage (46.6) and is 10th in both points per game (73.1) and free-throw percentage (65.7), often struggling to find a rhythm on offense.

The season began with a school-record 21 straight victories, largely due to the team ranking fourth in the nation in scoring defense (57.5) and rebound margin (plus-9.5), and fifth in field-goal percentage defense (37.9).

The Wildcats have split their last four, though, shooting a season-worst 32.3 percent in a 60-58 defeat at California on Feb. 1 before hitting 35.9 percent from the field and 16 of 30 from the free-throw line in Friday's 69-66 double-overtime loss at Arizona State.

"We've had so many games this year where we didn't make our free throws, we didn't shoot the ball well or sometimes didn't have a lot of attempts from (3-point range)," Miller said. "The combination of our defense and (rebounding) have allowed us to be 23-2, not 15-10. Nobody knows more than I that the ball going in the basket a little bit more will give us a lot more room for error down the stretch."

Arizona hasn't lost three straight on the road since Feb. 4-25, 2010, during Miller's first season in Tucson. He said he's not focusing so much on any sort of road skid but rather getting his bench more involved.

Each starter played more than 45 minutes Friday, while four reserves combined for only 22. T.J. McConnell scored 17 points, Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon each had a double-double and Nick Johnson finished with 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting.

"We just have to work hard and know that we're 23-2 for a reason. We're 10-2 in our conference for a reason," Miller said. "When we go to Utah, is it going to be really hard? No question. We've had two court-storms in four games. It's something that certainly leaves an impression on you."

Johnson scored a game-high 22 and Gordon added 10 points and 12 rebounds in a 65-56 win over Utah on Jan. 26, but the Wildcats shot just 40 percent and went 14 for 23 on free throws.

Freshman guard Delon Wright scored 19 points for the Utes, who know they're in for another tough test with the Wildcats looking to get back on track.

"To use a football analogy, it's a team that runs the ball," coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Arizona after the first meeting. "They grind on you and grind on you and eventually the defense gets tired of being on the field at the end of the game. There's a lot to be said for the way they play."

That defeat for Utah (17-8, 6-7) is one of only two that has come by more than four points, with the other being Saturday's 80-66 loss to UCLA. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage at 49.9, but they shot just 41.8 percent against the Bruins.

Wright, who leads the conference in shooting percentage at 59.2, scored 16 points as the Utes had their three-game winning streak snapped.

"We just didn't play hard coming out for the second half," Wright said. "They came out and took it to us, and we didn't respond."

Utah hasn't beaten Arizona since the 1998 West Regional final in its run to the national title game.

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