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LAS VEGAS -- In this city, there are a ton of magicians and illusionists. The MGM Grand, host of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, has David Copperfield featured on the outside of its hotel.
But no trick was more impressive Thursday afternoon than top-seeded Arizona's ability to make Utah's all-conference first-team guard disappear for most of the quarterfinal contest.
The Wildcats held Delon Wright scoreless for almost 28 minutes to start, led by 21 at the break and ran away with a 71-39 victory over the No. 8-seeded Utes at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"We were locked in, and our effort level - everything that we really wanted to do defensively, we were able to do it," UA head coach Sean Miller said. "That is the one thing about having a high seed in a conference tournament. It's to your advantage because the team you play, and in Utah's case, had to play a 40-minute hard-fought game yesterday against Washington. We didn't. I felt like the longer the game went, you could kind of sense that that was to our advantage."
Arizona (29-3), which led by as many as 36, will play No. 5 Colorado in the semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. The Buffaloes edged No. 4 California, 59-56, later in the day.
There would be no second-half charge from Utah (21-11), which shot a season-low and all-time tournament-worst 25.5 percent. There were several long stretches without a made field goal or even a single point. The Utes also set Pac-12 tournament records for futility in points scored and made field goals (12).
"Well, we got punched in the mouth by a really good basketball team, and we saw Arizona, I think, at their finest," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Defensively, it was really, really hard, obviously, for us to score, and they were geared up. That's why they lead our leg in defensive statistics."
Wright, who came in averaging 16.1 points, did not score until a pair of made free throws at the 11:15 mark. His first made field goal followed less than a minute later, but that only cut the Wildcats' lead to 30.
Utah failed to produce a double-digit scorer as Dallin Bachynski's nine points paced the team. Wright finished with five points on 1-of-8 shooting.
"They took us out of our offense," Bachynski said. "They made it difficult to swing the ball. They really put pressure on pick-and-roll and made it difficult for the guards, especially, to either come off and make a play or come off and look to score. So just the amount of pressure that they put on us, as well as having the help side there when the guard was able to get over. They were able to stop the first, as well as the second pass."
The Wildcats, who shot 52.9 percent, were led by their trio of all-conference first- and second-team honorees. Nick Johnson scored a game-high 14 points, T.J. McConnell added 13 and Aaron Gordon chipped in 11.
Johnson and McConnell combined to make 10 of 14 shots from the field. Still, it was the duo's effort on the other end of the floor that "set the tone," Miller said.
"Although I thought Utah might have missed some shots they normally make," Miller said, "for the most part, we tried to make the game hard-earned on that end of the floor, and it was one of our best defensive efforts of the season.
"That was the story line of our first game here in this tournament."
Aside from a no-look pass for an assist, it was rough from the start for Wright. The junior star was whistled for an offensive foul at the 12:32 mark, was held without a field goal attempt for the first nine-plus minutes before missing the first of two 3-pointers and ended the half 0 of 2.
"I would say it was pretty much a team effort," McConnell said of the job on Wright. "When we've got a guy like Delon Wright coming off a pick-and-roll, you've got to worry about him at first. But as a team I think we did a good job of containing him, and containing the big men as well."
But everyone in a Utes uniform struggled against the suffocating Wildcats defense.
A Gordon steal and dunk ignited a 15-0 run, which also included a pair of Johnson 3-pointers. Utah went eight minutes without scoring before Princeton Onwas' floater in the lane at the 7:27 mark made the score 22-8.
The Utes missed 14 of 19 attempts in the half and turned the ball over eight times.
The defense maintained the onslaught through the half, and five consecutive layups ran the UA lead to 34-13 going into the break.
"I think that's been our biggest thing this year, really," Johnson said of the ability to turn defense into offense. "When we get stops and get rebounds and get the push, our athleticism is really at play. I think finishing with dunks and around the basket gets everybody going. So it's definitely one of our strong points."
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Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor