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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utes brace for first game without Josh Watkins

As if facing Arizona wasn't going to be hard enough, the Utes will be doing it without their best player.

Utah dismissed senior point guard Josh Watkins Thursday, taking away about 15 points and 6 assists from the Utes' floudering production.

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The Utes have been competitive in three of their last four Pac-12 games, including beating Washington State at the Huntsman Center on Jan. 5. Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star today went all scientific to get to the bottom of how much of an impact altitude really has on visiting teams.

Arizona has unexpectedly struggled this season, a year after reaching the Elite Eight. The Wildcats are 12-6 (3-2 Pac-12) and last week lost to Oregon and needed overtime to beat 1-5 Oregon State.

Given the Utes' home performances against the Cougars and Huskies earlier this month, a strong showing, or a win, against Arizona, didn't seem out of reach.

Until Jiggy got kicked off.

But Arizona wasn't ready to publicly breathe a sigh of relief after Watkins was dismissed. Instead, assistant coach Book Richardson said, the greater concern now is the unknown of a Utah team without him.

"We worry because if Josh Watkins was an engine, we don't know what goes on now," Richardson said. "You never know."

Watkins becomes the third high-profile player to be kicked off a Pac-12 team this season. UCLA's Ben Howland booted mercurial forward Reeves Nelson in December, and Arizona State's Herb Sendek sent point guard Keala King packing two weeks ago.

• I asked on Twitter a few days ago how much time Craig Robinson could have left as the Oregon State coach given his inability to earn wins with a clearly talented Beaver team. Bud Withers of the Seattle Times breaks down the Beavers' issues, while this RushtheCourt post goes deeper and, theorizes, the Robinson has at least a couple of years left. His coaching flaws, however, aren't going unnoticed.

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