Arizona continues to climb up the charts after falling out of the AP Top 25 early in the season. The Wildcats are now No. 11 and have the Schedule to make it into the Top 10 if not the Top 5 by season’s end. That said, they’re not exactly blowing out every Pac-12 team. That’s where Utah comes in, as long as it plays better than when these teams first met.
The Utes were at home in that first meeting about three weeks ago, but it didn’t matter as they lost 94-82. While they shot it well and made 12-of-26 from long range, they had no answers for freshman big man DeAndre Ayton, who had 24 points and 14 boards. Allonzo Trier wasn’t even needed in the Game as he only attempted five shots and had seven points. That’s what Utah doesn’t want to happen again, but for a team that lacks a ton of depth, it’s hard to see this going better.
It may be best if Utah switched to some kind of zone or at least brought double teams onto Ayton because otherwise, it could be another long Game. Ayton has rarely been stopped this season and he already handled Tyler Rawson and David Collette in that first meeting. The Utes have size with those two and seven-footer Jayce Johnson, but they’ll need to use that size to their advantage in other ways. Ayton and Dusan Ristic will probably dominate in the paint yet again.
If that happens, this could turn into an ugly Game, similar to Utah’s previous big losses on the road to UCLA and USC. Utah’s backcOurt is solid led by Justin Bibbins (14.2 ppg, 5.1 apg) and Sedrick Barefield, but those aren’t on the same level as Trier, Alkins and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The Utes only had a chance in that first Game because of their hot shooting and even after tying the Game with roughly five minutes to go, they were dominated in the final frame and ended up losing by 12.
Arizona will again turn to Ayton and Ristic in the paint with Alkins, Jackson-Cartwright and Trier drawing fouls on the perimeter. Utah may have size, but unless it changes its defensive strategy, this Game may not be as close as the first one. If Barefield doesn’t get hot from three the Utes will have to find other paths to Scoreand guys like Bibbins and Rawson can only do so much.
The Wildcats maybe aren’t destroying teams like one would expect with that roster, most recently failing to cover against both Oregon State and Oregon at home. But we’ve already seen the advantages this team has on the road against Utah so there’s no reason to think that will change in Tucson. The hope for Utah is that it catches fire from deep again, Ayton struggles to get anything going and the refs don’t call ticky-tack fouls in favor of Arizona. Those are all big asks if you plan on taking the Utes. They have size, but the Wildcats are bigger and more talented at almost every position on the floor.
Our pick – Arizona -8.5