Tucson, Ariz. • When Max Hazzard decided he would transfer from UC Irvine for his final year of eligibility, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak made a play for the Los Angeles native’s services.
Hazzard ultimately chose to spend the year at the University of Arizona. On Thursday, Hazzard just happened to have his best game of the season against the Utes.
Four days after getting trucked at then-No. 25 Colorado, Utah suffered a similar fate in the desert. Hazzard hit six of Arizona’s 15 3-pointers on his way to 24 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and the Wildcats were dialed in defensively on their way to a 93-77 victory in front of a strong weeknight crowd of 13,549 at the McKale Center.
“We knew what he was capable and it looked pretty dang pure to me coming down,” Krystkowiak said. “The last one he hit was from about 30 feet in transition, so he's playing with a lot of confidence, and there’s a lot of guys on that team, not necessarily at the top of the scouting report, but that we have to account for and we didn’t do a great job with him.”
Dating back to a neutral-court loss to San Diego State on Dec. 20, Utah (10-6, 1-3 Pac-12) has lost three straight and four of five, all to teams at least receiving votes in the AP Poll.
“Yeah, we got off to a slow start, they are tough for us,” said sophomore forward Riley Battin after going for 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting. “We just didn’t do a good job on defense. We let them get too many easy shots and once you get into a hole like that, it’s hard to get back out, especially at their place.”
Arizona (12-5, 2-2 Pac-12) did not steamroll Utah from the opening tip the way Colorado did on Sunday, but it was close.
Prized freshman point guard Nico Mannion missed three questionable shots in the opening minutes of the contest, then got a quick hook from Sean Miller. The Arizona head coach inserted Hazzard, who proceeded to lead the carving up of Utah’s perimeter defense.
Hazzard followed a 3-pointer from the left wing with a midrange jumper from the elbow to extend Arizona to a 22-11 lead at the under-12 media timeout. Hazzard’s shooting came at a time when both offenses were trying to figure things out. At the same time, the Wildcats were slowly asserting themselves, specifically on defense, where they cut off the 3-point line to shooters, and on the glass.
Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji finished with a game-high eight boards, while the Utes were outrebounded again, this time to the tune of minus-seven for the night.
Nnaji, Mannion and classmate Josh Green, all currently projected first-round NBA Draft picks for 2020, combined for 43 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
In the first half alone, Arizona shot 54.1 percent from the floor, 57.1 percent from 3-point range and registered a gaudy 1.54 points per possession in taking a 52-28 halftime lead. Mannion got things figured upon returning midway through the half, and when Hazzard had a seat with 1:48 before halftime, he did so to an ovation after scoring 14 points, including 4-for-5 shooting from deep.
“We all feel like we’ve kind of been punched and we realize to be in that category, we have to be a lot better,” Krystkowiak said of the rugged schedule Utah has faced over the last month. “I’m convinced, as my physician told me with all my knee injuries, that if experiences don’t kill you, it’s gonna make you stronger. And I trust that, you know, we got a sense of what big boy basketball is now.”
Utah’s two-most dangerous offensive weapons, Timmy Allen and Both Gach, had mixed bags, as was the case at Colorado. Allen, the Pac-12’s leading scorer entering the night, had 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Gach, who had seven points against the Buffaloes, shot 1-for-8 on Thursday in finishing with just two points.