No. 8 Arizona Wildcats vs. Utah Utes
Line: Arizona -11
Where: McKale Memorial Center, Tuscon, Arizona
When: Thursday, 2/16 at 10:00 p.m. ET
No. 8 Arizona will have revenge on its mind when it plays host to Utah on Thursday night in a Pac-12 battle that could have serious conference tournament implications.
The Utes, who are one game back of Arizona for second place in the Pac-12 standings, put together a stunning performance in an 81-66 final when these teams met in early December. They used their league-leading defensive field goal percentage (38.0) to slow down the league’s top shooting offense (48.8), springing the upset as 7-point home underdogs in a game that went ‘under’ the total of 154.5.
Oddsmakers are not expecting lightning to strike twice, as offshore sportsbook BetOnline opened Arizona as a 10-point favorite on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday night’s total opened at 147 points. By early this morning, most spots had the Wildcats at -11 with a total of 146 —Utah has gone ‘under’ in nine of its last 10 road games and four of its last five games overall.
The Utes raced out to a 5-0 record in conference play, but they lost three straight games to Oregon, UCLA and USC after that. They have been able to get back on track since then, winning five of their last seven games coming into this matchup. Their most recent victories came at home against Cal and Colorado in a pair of double-digit decisions.
They have taken a hit offensively after second-leading scorer Gabe Madsen went down a high-ankle sprain. The junior guard was averaging 11.7 points per game and will miss his fourth straight contest on Thursday.
“I wouldn’t say (we’re trying to) reinvent ourselves, but when you lose a guy like Madsen, things change,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “We worked a lot on specifically some of the things we needed to do offensively, and then just getting back to who we are defensively.”
Lazar Stefanovic has moved into the starting lineup, leading the Utes in scoring in three of the last four games, including a 26-point showing in a 78-72 loss to Stanford two weeks ago. Branden Carlson scored 22 points against Arizona on 5 of 9 3-point shooting in the first meeting and leads Utah with 16.5 points per game.
The Utes have the nation’s fourth-best defensive effective field goal percentage (43.1), but they are No. 171 in that stat on the offensive end. They are facing an Arizona defense that is No. 40 in effective field goal percentage (47.1), but it is No. 250 in turnover rate.
There is no question regarding Arizona’s strength, as it ranks ninth in effective field goal percentage (56.0) on the offensive end. The Wildcats love to push the pace in transition, ranked No. 14 nationally in tempo. They fell two games back of UCLA in the conference standings after losing to Stanford as 7.5-point favorites on Saturday.
The Wildcats had covered the spread in four straight games prior to that loss, beating Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and Cal. They scored at least 84 points in all four of those games, with All-America candidate Azuolas Tubelis averaging 26.7 points per game during that stretch. He was held to just four points in 17 minutes due to foul trouble on Saturday, but he still leads the league in scoring (20.2) and rebounding (9.3).
“You hope to refocus, tighten things up and get better from it,” Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd said. “There’s no guarantee it’s going to happen, but, traditionally, these guys have been able to respond.”
They certainly have responded traditionally, as Lloyd has never lost back-to-back games in two seasons with the program. Oumar Ballo (14.7), Courtney Ramey (10.7), Kerr Kriisa (10.6) and Pelle Larsson (10.1) join Tubelis in double figures.
The pick: Arizona -11
Utah was able to put together its best performance of the year when it beat Arizona in early December, but it is going to struggle away from home on Thursday night. The Wildcats are one of the top offensive teams in college basketball, with five double-digit scorers pacing a lineup that loves to push the ball in transition. Their ability to control the tempo at home will give them an edge that they did not have in their trip to Utah, and it is going to make things very difficult for a Utah offense that is missing its second-leading scorer. The Wildcats have won 16 of the last 20 meetings between these teams, including 10 straight at home. They’ve never dropped back-to-back games under Lloyd, which is not a streak that will be snapped on Thursday night.