Arizona-Utah postgame: At the halfway point (maybe)
The three Wildcat players chosen for postgame interviews Sunday – Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – were reminded that if they reach the NCAA title game they would be halfway through the season at this point.
UA has 11 more Pac-12 games left, could play three in the Pac-12 Tournament and six in the NCAA tournament. That's 40 total games for a team that's now 20-0.
"Well,” Gordon said, smiling. “I guess we’re halfway done. Going by quick.”
Johnson said the thought was "pretty crazy" but put it in perspective.
“If we keep our doing what coach tells us, keep our identity as a team, as a defensive team then it’s a possibility,” he said.
There couldn’t have been much more different defensive philosophies than the ones Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak and Arizona’s Sean Miller had Sunday.
Krystkowiak had his Utah players switching defenses sometimes every possession, sometimes within a possession.
Miller had the Wildcats playing man-to-man, as always.
Utah led 12-2 early.
Arizona won the game 65-56.
“When you play man-to-man and you don’t change, sometimes you ask yourself `Should I show them a different look?’ “ Miller said. “But the game within the game is you can really wear down a team by constantly sticking with the pressure.
“A guy like Nick or Rondae or Aaron, they can really wear on you as the game goes on. We were probably a little more physical. But I give our guys credit – it takes a lot to wear our guys down in a 40-minute game. If that was the case it was probably our constant man-to-man pressure and offensive rebounding.”
Not only did the Wildcats collect a season-high 20 offensive rebounds, keeping their offense productive despite 3-of-14 three-point shooting and 40-percent shooting overall, but they also outrebounded the Utes by 11 after tying opponents on the boards in two of three previous games.
“That’s pretty good,” Johnson said. “We’re best when we get out on the break, hitting spot up threes and getting to the rim, so that all starts with getting defensive rebounds. Over the last few games, we haven’t been doing that -- guards and bigs -- so we are just getting back to our identity on defense and finishing the possession.”
The increasingly versatile Johnson was asked which of his shots were most clutch Sunday: a floater, jam or hook shot.
“I mean, I liked the dunk,” he said of one that gave UA a 57-49 lead with 4:27 left. “Missed my free throw (from a foul) though.”
Gordon dunked with 9:27 left, giving the Wildcats the lead for good, 49-47, while Utah called a 30-second timeout and McKale Center went nuts.
“It was just putting the ball in the rim,” Gordon said. “It definitely wasn’t going down for me tonight but being able to dunk on somebody, going back on defense, and make them call time out -- it was incredible. It picked my energy up and motivated me more for the next play.”
Earlier in the game, Gordon didn’t have that.
“I thought he got frustrated at the beginning,” Miller said. “I don’t see him frustrated very much. He had a couple of things not go his way and missed his first two free throws but he got right back on track.
“The value of Aaron Gordon you can really see tonight. He had 12 rebounds, seven offensive rebounds. Even when he missed his free throws, he’s getting fouls and that wore their team down. But he had some big moments. It’s difficult but that’s who he is. He has a way of continuing to move toward that next play.”
Here's the official box score.