Las Vegas • This was ugly.
Actually, this was worse than ugly. This was an obliteration, a merciless beatdown handed out by No. 4 Arizona.
Any notion that Utah was somehow comparable to the Wildcats following two competitive, close regular season meetings was put to rest on Thursday. Arizona turned the Utes into roadkill on its way to a 71-39 victory at the MGM Grand Garden and a berth in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
Truthfully, it wasn’t that close. In their worst loss since coach Larry Krystkowiak’s first season at Utah, the Utes set records for futility, scoring the fewest points in a Pac-12 tournament game and shooting the worst field goal percentage in tourney history (25.5).
“They defend, they really defend and that’s why they lead our league,” said Krystkowiak. “We would’ve had to be pretty good today, but they punched us in the mouth. It’s a tough way to end.”
Thursday’s 40 minute meltdown effectively ended any remaining pairing of Utah and the NCAA Tournament in the same sentence. The Utes will likely collect a bid to the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday, and most signs point to them receiving a home game early next week.
Rather than continue to sort through Thursday’s horrors, the Utes afterward preferred to reflect on the season, which may well be remembered as the one that turned things around after years of decline. The Utes won 21 games, won their initial game in the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington, and could very well have finished in the top half of the league were it not for a few bad breaks.
“We know that we’ve had a great season and that we’ve turned the program around this season,” said Ute guard Brandon Taylor. “We’re disappointed with how the game turned out. We didn’t play well today, but we have more basketball remaining. We’re looking forward to playing next week, wherever we go.”
Nobody expected Thursday to be easy for Utah. But after playing the Wildcats tough in the two earlier meetings — extending the Wildcats to over time at the Huntsman Center — there was a sense that Utah would be able to compete against Sean Miller’s team in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
Instead, there was carnage. The Utes never had a lead. Arizona reeled off 15 unanswered points in the middle of a first half en route to a 34-13 lead at intermission.
Utah’s three top scorers — Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor — didn’t register a single point until Loveridge made two free throws with 14 minutes remaining left in the game.
Yes, it was that bad. Center Dallin Bachynski wound up leading the Utes with nine points.
“They really put on a defensive clinic,” Bachynski said. “For us to score only 13 points in the first half, you really can’t shoot it that bad. Of course, some of the shots we knew we could hit weren’t falling, but the majority of it was Arizona’s defense.”
Miller didn’t disagree.
“I thought we were locked in defensively,” he said. “Everything we really wanted to do defensively we were able to do. That is the one thing about being a high seed in the conference tournament. In Utah’s case, they had to play a hard-fought game against Washington and we didn’t. I felt like the longer the game went, you could kind of sense that was to our advantage.”
Nick Johnson led all scorers with 14 points. His backcourt mate T.J. McConnell scored 13, while freshman Aaron Gordon scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. As was the case in the regular-season, the Wildcats dominated Utah in the rebounding department.
The Utes turned the ball over 11 times and made just 12 field goals.
This, however, is perhaps the most telling statistic: Utah’s 10 previous losses combined add up to 45 points. The Utes were beaten by 32 points on Thursday, and were lucky the margin turned out to be that few.
R Arizona’s 15-0 run in the middle of the first half breaks things open for good.
• Utah falls to 21-11 on the season.
• The Utes await their postseason fate on Sunday night.
Arizona 71, Utah 39
Onwas 3-8 1-2 7, Taylor 0-2 0-0 0, Loveridge 0-6 2-2 2, Bachynski 3-7 3-3 9, Wright 1-8 3-4 5, Van Brocklin 0-0 0-0 0, Kovacevic 1-1 0-0 2, Van Dyke 1-2 0-0 2, Lenz 0-2 0-0 0, Fields 1-2 2-3 5, Tucker 2-5 2-2 7, Ogbe 0-2 0-0 0, Olsen 0-2 0-0 0.
Totals 12-47 13-16 39.
York 2-8 0-0 6, McConnell 6-8 0-0 13, Gordon 4-9 2-4 11, N. Johnson 4-6 4-4 14, Tarczewski 3-5 3-4 9, Mayes 3-5 0-0 6, Hollis-Jefferson 3-6 1-2 7, Pitts 1-2 0-0 2, Korcheck 0-0 0-0 0, Peters 0-1 0-0 0, Mason 0-0 0-0 0, C. Johnson 1-1 0-0 3.
Totals 27-51 10-14 71.
Halftime—Arizona 34-13. 3-Point Goals—Utah 2-10 (Fields 1-1, Tucker 1-2, Taylor 0-1, Ogbe 0-1, Onwas 0-1, Loveridge 0-1, Wright 0-3), Arizona 7-18 (N. Johnson 2-3, York 2-6, C. Johnson 1-1, Gordon 1-1, McConnell 1-3, Pitts 0-1, Peters 0-1, Mayes 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Utah 24 (Bachynski 4), Arizona 39 (Hollis-Jefferson 8). Assists—Utah 7 (Wright 4), Arizona 13 (McConnell 4). Total Fouls—Utah 15, Arizona 16. A—NA