It couldn’t get any bigger than this game for the Utes. Coming into the night Arizona had a one game lead on Utah in the Pac-12 standings. A win in this one would tie the Utes with Arizona for first place. After that it would be a matter of who blinks first in the race for the regular season title. Utah still has a tough swing with the Washington teams, and the Wildcats have to travel to the Bay Area for a pair of games to finish off their regular season. But if Utah could hold serve in front of a packed Huntsman Center on Saturday night they would give themselves a great chance at a conference title. Regardless of the outcome in this one, Utah and Arizona will likely be the top two seeds in the conference tournament. Fans have been looking forward to this game since Arizona thumped the Utes in Tucson back in January. With a shot at the conference title in the balance, back in Salt Lake, and on senior night the Utes were looking for revenge. It would have to wait.
The atmosphere in the arena was wild from the start. The lights went down and fans busted out red and white light sticks for player introductions. Arizona scored first but Utah answered with a three by Jordan Loveridge that nearly blew the roof off of the Huntsman Center. A questionable charging foul called on Brekkott Chapman sent the place into frenzy. At the first media timeout with 15:42 left in the half Utah was down 5-6. Things settled down a little and the focus shifted from the event to the actual game. Utah struggled to score; they were 3-15 with 8:42 to play in the half. But Jordan Loveridge and Brekkott Chapman hit back-to-back threes to get the Utes back in the game. Another defensive stop led to another Brekkott Chapman three. With 6:32 left in the first half Utah cut the lead to 2, making it 17-19. Dallin Bachynski took a charge that led to a wide-open look for J-Love to take the lead. He missed the shot and Bachynski picked up his second foul fighting for the rebound. Arizona extended their lead to 17-21 with 4:57 left to play. But Delon Wright hit a three on the next possession bringing the Utes back within one. Then Utah forced a turnover that led to a Bachynski layup that gave Utah the 22-21 lead with just under 4 minutes left in the half. Bachynski was crucial for the Utes in the first half. He came in and played solid minutes for Poeltl who was in foul trouble and largely ineffective against Kaleb Tarczewski. However, Bachynski would pick up a third foul with 3:01 left in the half that forced him to the bench. With Poeltl and Bachynski in foul trouble Jeremy Olsen was thrust into the spotlight for the rest of the half. He missed two layups and two free throws on two trips down the floor. Utah got off to a good start in the rebounding battle, which was a huge focus after they lost that battle by 20 the last time these teams met. But with the big men in foul trouble Arizona was able to get a lot of second chances towards the end of the half. Delon Wright split a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left in the half and then Elliott Pitts knocked down two on the other end to close out the half and give Arizona a 29-28 lead.
J-Love and Brekkott Chapman both had 6 points in the first half. Delon Wright finished the half with 9 pts, 3 rbs, 2 blk, 2 ast, and 1 stl. Utah struggled from the floor, shooting 8-27. The bright spot was the 45% shooting from three at 5-11. Utah only had 3 non-three-point field goals all half. The Utes did edge out Arizona on the rebound battle 20-18. The even had an impressive 8 offensive boards.
Utah scored first in the second half, but Jakob Poeltl picked up his third foul only two and a half minutes into the half. With 16:58 left in the 2nd half it was 30-30. After a five-minute commercial break it was determined that there was a technical foul on Arizona. Delon Wright hit them both and put the Utes up by 2. J-Love went down and hit a layup to extend the Utes’ lead. Foul trouble continued for Utah, however, as Brekkott Chapman picked up his 3rd foul with 16:05 left in the game. It was a weird stretch of officiating that led to many long delays through much of the second half. During this time Utah built a 5-point lead. However, with about 9 minutes left J-Love picked up his 4th foul. Dallin Bachynski and Delon Wright were huge on senior night, with Bachynski playing one of the best games of his career. He looked confident out there, and we got to see the vocal leader that has been working hard in practice all year. It was a truly great performance on senior night. With 8:11 left in the game Brandon Taylor hit a 3 to give the Utes a 47-41 lead. But Arizona responded, bringing it to within one. Jakob Poeltl finished a layup right after that to make it 49-46 with 7:09 left to play. The foul trouble for Poeltl worsened, however, on the next possession when he got Tarczewski on a dunk attempt (which Tarczewski converted). Arizona regained the lead after a pair of free throws with 6:30 left brought it to 50-49. Dallin Bachynski got fouled by Kaleb Tarczewski (his 4th) with 5:43 left and Brandon Taylor hit a jumper to put Utah back on top, 51-50. Brekkott Chapman fouled out on the next possession. With 3:56 left Isaiah Wright got fouled shooting a 3 and converted on all three free throws to bring the Utes back on top 54-53. With 2:16 left in the game Tarczewski and Poeltl both checked back into the game with 4 fouls. With 1:55 left in the game Brandon Taylor buried a 3 that gave the Utes a 57-55 lead. Poeltl fouled out on the next possession and Arizona went in front 58-57 with a tip in off a missed free throw. Taylor missed a three with a minute to go but Arizona was called for an offensive foul that gave the Utes the ball back with 43.8 to play down one. Delon Wright got to the basket but missed, the rebound went to Jakob Poeltl who kicked it back to Delon but the refs blew it dead. After review it was determined to be off Utah and Arizona got possession with 35.7 left. Utah was unable to connect on its remaining chances, including a Brandon Taylor layup that rolled off the rim with 10 seconds left. Arizona hit some free throws and put the game away. The final score was 63-57
Utah shot very poorly during long stretches tonight. Brandon Taylor, J-Love, and Brekkott Chapman had some timely 3’s, but it was a struggle for Utah to score consistently down low and from midrange. It was hard to keep momentum and involve the sellout crowd because Utah was called for 26 fouls in the game. The officiating was questionable for much of the game and there were lengthy delays to sort out bizarre issues. Overall Utah played a good game to be able to keep it as close as they did considering their poor shooting and the tight officiating. Utah will have to recover quickly, as they have big games coming up next week and tournament play right around the corner. Perhaps the Utes will get another shot at the Wildcats, and the third time will be the charm.
Larry Krystkowiak – http://espn700sports.com/?p=60049
Dallin Bachynski & Delon Wright – http://espn700sports.com/?p=60055