The calendar still reads February but everything about Arizona’s showdown versus Utah in Salt Lake City screams March.
National title contenders? Check.
All-Americans? How ‘bout a pair of them.
Stifling defense? Got those too.
For as disappointing as the Pac-12 has been this year, there might not be another conference outside the ACC with a better 1-2 punch than the Wildcats and Utes.
The two west-coast powers will face off in Saturday night in an ESPN televised prime-time matchup.
Forget College Gameday. This one doesn’t need to be staged with confetti.
Arizona will run onto the Jon M. Huntsman Center floor with a five-game winning streak at its back. Four of those victories have been by 20 or my points.
It also wasn’t too long ago that Arizona humbled then No. 9 ranked Utah 69-51 in Tucson. In that game, All-American candidate Delon Wright was mostly shut out after a quick start.
Since that loss, the Utes have stumbled twice more on the road but are coming off a 42 point home win against ASU in which the Sun Devils were held to 28 percent from the floor.
As much attention as Arizona’s defense rightfully receives, Utah’s is nearly as suffocating. The Utes rank right below the Wildcats in defensive efficiency, fifth in the nation.
In what should be a defensive struggle, Arizona will need Gabe York to keep shooting like he has been from outside. The junior guard has made seven of his last 10 from behind the arc and has led the team in scoring the last two games.
Preferably, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Elliott Pitts can also join the mix. Pitts has not made multiple field goals in a game since the win at Washington.
By knocking perimeter jumpers, the Wildcats can feasibly break open the paint, where they didn’t have a ton of success in the first matchup at McKale.
This time around, Arizona boasts a more confident Kaleb Tarczewski.
Zeus has been more aggressive both attacking the glass and throwing it down when he gets position inside. Faced up against Utah freshman Jakob Poeltl, Tarczewski needs to keep being assertive without picking up cheap fouls.
On defense, the Wildcats will again turn to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to slow down Wright. The 6’5 senior was more or less neutralized by Hollis-Jefferson in Tucson.
With the previous beat down still fresh in mind, it would be hard to fault Arizona for feeling confident heading in.
The Wildcats need no reminder of their previous troubles this year winning on the road, but this won’t be a game that they overlook or forget to show up to. On the other hand, Arizona hasn’t played a road game against this level of an opponent all season.