They are your Pac-12 regular season Conference Champions. They were undefeated at home this year and were the number one team in the nation for a good portion of the season. They boast the conference player, coach, and freshman of the year. They may also be the most interesting team in the world. Safe to say, it has been a very successful year for the Arizona Wildcats.
Now it is March.
Everything the Wildcats have worked for this year has led up to the position they are in now. Tournament time is a whole different season and now it is time to get hot and win one game at a time. The Cats are the number one seed and favorite to win this weekend’s Pac-12 Tournament. It all starts today versus the Utah Utes.
The Utes defeated the Washington Huskies yesterday in a close one, mostly thanks to sophomore Dakarai Tucker’s late 3-pointer to give them the lead, and eventually the win. Now Utah looks to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive versus the top-seeded Wildcats.
Both games between these schools came down to the wire this season. The Wildcats squeaked by the Utes at McKale Center on January 26th by a score of 65-56, and they also escaped with an overtime victory in Salt Lake City, 67-63. In the most recent matchup, Gabe York had one of his best games of the year, scoring 15 points. Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Aaron Gordon had one of his worst games of the year, fouling out in only 20 minutes. Sounds like Gordon needs to have some of “Gabe’s Secret Stuff” and the Wildcats should be golden.
Utah’s coach Larry Krystkowiak is known for showing lots of different defensive looks, going everywhere from man-to-man to a zone trap. T.J. McConnell must continue to take care of the ball, as he only has six turnovers in the last six games. Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson has brought home more trophies this week than I have science fair participation awards (that’s a lot). Now it is time for Johnson to prove he is worthy of these honors and show he is one of the best players in the nation. He is the leader of this team and needs to be playing at his best.
Utah has a Pac-12 First Team representative as well in junior guard Delon Wright, who averages 16 points per game. Look for Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to get the majority of the defensive assignment on Wright. Utah’s other star player is sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge. He has been just another guy to be shutdown by Gordon this season. Loveridge is just 5-26 shooting from the field against Arizona this year. If the Wildcats can limit him again, they will make their task much easier today.
It is tough to beat a team three times in a season, but when you are as talented as this Arizona team, it is what is expected. I expect a big game from Johnson and big man Kaleb Tarczewski as they return to Vegas for the first time since the famous Sean Miller “He touched the ball” incident. I got the Cats winning this one by a score of 65-58.
And always remember, “Nastiness is required.”