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January 26, 2014
Late run gives No. 1 Arizona 20/20 vision
Twenty and woah.
The Wildcats (20-0, 7-0 Pac-12 Conference) turned a two-point deficit with 11:04 to play into a 20-9 flurry to close the contest.
"It was a tough game. That was the hardest [nine]-point win that we've experienced this year," said Nick Johnson, who led the charge with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
It was Johnson's seventh 20-point game of the season.
As a team, UA shot 40 percent - including 3 of 14 on 3-pointers - but made 14 of 28 second-half attempts from the field to secure the program's 27th 20-win season since 1985.
"We broke a record that's not easy to break," said UA head coach Sean Miller, who added that his Wildcats faced a number of different looks including a triangle-and-two, man-to-man and 2-3 zone defense.
Prior to the contest, Utah (14-6, 3-5 Pac-12) had not lost a game by more than four points, which was the margin Thursday at Arizona State. Five of the Utes' six losses this season have been on the road, where they have yet to win a game.
Delon Wright finished with 19 points to pace Utah, which shot 40.4 percent and turned the ball over 14 times. Leading scorer Jordan Loveridge was limited to 13 points, making just 4 of 14 shots to get there.
"They were killing us on the offensive boards," Wright said. "We didn't give them enough body to get the rebounds. We couldn't score and I'm not sure what happened."
Trailing by 5 at the break and down by as many as 7 early in the second half, the Utes clawed back to take a 37-36 lead with 16:16 to play and continue the see-saw affair from the opening 20 minutes.
Arizona restored its lead to 6 with 12:36 to play before Johnson went to the bench for a breather. At that point, he was the lone double-figure scorer for the Wildcats.
As soon as Johnson returned, the Utes went up 47-45 on Kenneth Ogbe's 3-pointer and Johnson tied the game on the following possession with 10:50 remaining. Aaron Gordon, who overcame a 3-of-13 shooting night, then joined the double-figure column on a two-hand slam to make it 49-47.
Those two plays ignited the decisive 14-2 run to help the Wildcats pull away. Johnson was in takeover mode during the spurt, adding a baseline dunk and floater to push the lead to 59-49 with 3:53 to play.
"My all-around game wasn't too well so rebounding is one thing that I can actually focus on," Gordon said. "It comes pretty naturally to me so I was just taking out my frustration and aggression on the rebounding."
And it was an area the entire team paid special attention to after two of Arizona's previous three opponents matched its rebounding production. Miller highlighted that aspect after Colorado pulled down 32 on Thursday.
Tonight, the Wildcats dominated the Utes on the glass, 40-29 - including 20-9 on the offensive boards, where Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson combined for 12.
"Those two guys bring a lot to the table, but their athleticism and physicality and just (made) big-moment plays…to help us win," Miller said of his freshmen.
Added Johnson: "If we wouldn't have had that tonight, then we wouldn't have won the game."
After Arizona's wire-to-wire victory over Colorado, which included an 18-4 start to the contest, Miller said fast starts at home was an area his players have discussed. But it was the Utes who jumped on the Wildcats early instead, scoring the first seven points of the contest to take an early 10-point lead.
The Wildcats, mired in a 2-of-13 shooting slump and sloppy start, answered with seven consecutive points highlighted by a Johnson 3-pointer to pull within three before the midway point of the half. A T.J. McConnell runner and Gabe York's traditional 3-point play then extended the run to 12-0, putting UA in front for the first time with 8:06 left.
The teams then combined for eight more lead changes to close the half. Arizona scored eight of the last 10 points - capped by Kaleb Tarczewski's buzzer-beating slam that held up after the review - to take a 31-26 lead into the break.
Tarczewski's basket came off a wild Gordon attempt that he putback.
"We just couldn't match their level of physicality," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "It was a whooping when it came to the boards."