The Wildcats now have a favorable schedule, two games against teams they have beaten handily, before their big showdown with Washington. That game could decide the Pac-12 regular season champion.
The Wildcats (17-8, 8-4) played their first rematch of the season on Thursday and will have another first on Saturday. It will be the first of back-to-back games against teams in which an Arizona player was ejected. During the game in Utah, Solomon Hill was ejected after elbowing forward Cedric Martin in the back of the head. Martin fell to the ground, was stepped on by one of his own teammates, and then fell to the floor again after attempting to get up and retaliate. Martin left the game and later returned; Hill did not.
Utah lost on the road Thursday to a lowly Arizona State team 52-57. The loss is just another result of Utah not being ready for the Pac-12 challenge. However, it shouldn't just roll over in Tucson. The Utes were hanging tough for the first half and the beginning of the second. After the ejection, Utah let a 3-point deficit turn into a 21-point margin in just over 4 minutes. The Wildcats pulled away and eventually won 77-51.
Utah's leading scorer and only senior, Josh Watkins, was dismissed from the team shortly before the two teams met in Salt Lake City. He was averaging 15.6 points per game and could've potentially changed the game for the Utes.
However, without their team leader, junior center Jason Washburn stepped up and scored 14 points of his own. The 7-foot, 230-pounder also pulled down a team-high 6 rebounds in 33 minutes. He was a force inside, blocking a shot and altering a few more. On Thursday night, Washburn was limited by foul trouble. If Arizona can attack him on the inside, it has a chance to limit him as well.
Joining Washburn in the front court is fellow junior Dijon Farr. Farr, 6-foot-6, 213-pounds, had 8 points on 4 for 8 shooting in 29 minutes. He played a solid defensive game, picking up 4 rebounds and blocking Wildcat players 3 times. Part of his threat is being smaller and matching up against larger, slower defenders. Against Arizona, that wasn't a big advantage as the Wildcats also ran a small set.
Handling point guard duties for the Utes is 6-foot, 190-pound Kareem Storey. The freshman is arguably one of Utah's most dangerous players and showed off his potential against Arizona. Storey had 10 points on 3 field goals and hit 4 of 6 free throws. He also added 6 assists and 2 boards. It's important to remember that Storey is just a freshman who makes mistakes, as he had 5 turnovers in the game as well. He has improved his defense little-by-little over the course of the season and it is starting to show with his 3 steals against Arizona State.
At shooting guard, Utah has its only 3-point threat. 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior Chris Hines was 3 for 6 behind the arc in Salt Lake City. In a team-high 34 minutes, those 9 points were all he managed. He did little else to fill the stats sheet, grabbing just 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and a steal. Hines doesn't have much to show for his efforts, but did hold Kyle Fogg to just 12 points, which is where most of his focus was for the game.
Filling out the starting line-up will be 6-foot-4 guard Cedric Martin. The 190-pound junior was the recipient of Solomon Hill's elbow, which caused him to leave the game. After it was confirmed that he did not have a concussion, he returned to the game to finish with just 7 points that night, but went on to score 17, 15, and 19 points in 3 of Utah's next 5 games.
Against Arizona, Cedric Martin had 5 rebounds, all of them coming on the defensive end. He had 3 steals, which accounts for his aggressive defensive style. It will be interesting to see if there is any bad blood between him and Solomon Hill on Saturday.
First off the bench for Utah is 6-foot-7 sophomore Javon Dawson. The 260-pound forward had almost nothing to show for his efforts against Arizona and none of his stats were good. Dawson was credited with 1 turnover and 2 personal fouls in 10 minutes. He was held scoreless and didn't attempt a single shot. He is averaging 3.1 points per game, but had 9 on Thursday against ASU.
The first guard off the bench is 200-pound Anthony Odunsi. The 6-foot-3 freshman was also held scoreless, missing his lone field goal attempt. Odunsi contributed solid defense, which led to 2 rebounds in 18 minutes. He averages 3 points per contest, which isn't much considering that he plays nearly 15 minutes per outing, but he helps run the offense and doesn't make too many mistakes. Odunsi doesn't impact the game very much, but he is a capable body off the bench.
Another capable body off the pine is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Blake Wilkinson. The freshman forward had a single free throw in 9 minutes against the Wildcats, but also added 2 rebounds. He is averaging 1.7 points in 11.2 minutes, but has seen that taper off as of late and didn't play at all against ASU.
One of the last role players off the bench is little used guard, Alex Mortensen. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound freshman only played 4 minutes against Arizona, but outscored the entire Utah bench with his 2 free throws. Mortensen has only seen an average of 5 minutes in 10 games this season, but has shown that he could develop into a decent Pac-12 guard.
The last of Utah's bench players is 6-foot-7 Phoenix-native George Matthews. The 220-pound freshman forward was another of the Utes to be held without points in Salt Lake City, but had a rebound in 3 minutes of action. A graduate of St. Mary's High School in Phoenix, Arizona, Matthews has averaged 4.5 in 15 appearances this season.
Arizona will look to control the tempo of the game and hit its outside shots in order to stay a game out of first place in the Pac-12. With the 3-game winning streak, the Wildcats have played themselves into contention for the conference title and a possible NCAA tournament berth, but they cannot overlook an 11th place Utah team that has nothing to lose.
Utah is coming into McKale wanting nothing more than to knock off one of conference title contenders and shake up the standings. If the Wildcats start strong and hit their shots early, the starter should get an early rest for next week's road trip.