Wildcats rebound with blowout win over Utah
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Azoulas Tubelis missed a couple shots, got frustrated with a foul call and booted the ball into the student section.
Arizona’s leading scorer spent the rest of the first half on the bench. The rest of the Wildcats ran past Utah to get a bit of revenge.
Kerr Kriisa had 17 points and six assists, Courtney Ramey added 13 points and No. 8 Arizona pulled away after Tubelis went to the bench in an 88-62 rout Thursday night.
“Everybody knows Zu is a special part of our team, a major role, but we know how to play with four guards or whatever the situation may be,” Arizona’s Kylan Boswell, who had eight points. “Doesn’t really change much.”
Arizona (23-4, 12-4 Pac-12) struggled in a loss to Utah that had Utes coach Craig Smith high-fiving fans in the stands.
Back in their own boisterous arena, the Wildcats returned the favor with a dominating performance that had Smith shaking his head.
Arizona stretched its lead to 17 after Tubelis went out and kept making shots to bounce back from a loss at Stanford last weekend.
The Wildcats shot 56% from the floor, went 9 of 18 on 3-pointers and outscored Utah 38-10 in the paint while shutting the Utes down most of the night.
“In that the Stanford game, we had some good defensive possessions, but in the end, we made some crazy decisions — like why would you do this or that? Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We just made better decisions overall defensively and were able to contest some of their shooter’s shots.”
Utah scored 81 points and held Arizona to 35% shooting in its win on Dec. 1. The Utes (17-10, 10-6) had nowhere near the same efficiency this time, falling into a 20-point hole early in the second half to remain winless at McKale Center since 1986.
Branden Carlson had 19 points to lead Utah, which shot 32% from the floor.
“They certainly had a great look to them tonight,” Smith said. “They were in a great rhythm all night. We we were trying to disrupt it some, but really didn’t have an answer to anything that way and credit to them for doing that.”
Arizona got off to a shaky offensive start in the rematch against Utah, then Tubelis headed to the bench after his in-game boot.
Instead of struggling, the Wildcats pulled away.
Arizona went on a 10-0 run to go up by nine and held Utah scoreless for another three-minute stretch to push the lead to 33-18. The Wildcats kept hitting shots, going 18 of 31 from the field and 5 of 10 from 3 to lead 43-31 at halftime despite Tubelis playing just five minutes.
“I’m looking around like how are we only down 12?” Smith said.
Tubelis returned to the lineup to start the second half and Arizona went on a quick 9-0 run. Kriisa hit a 3-pointer, then set up Ramey for a layup that stretched the lead to 59-39.
Utah finally started to show some offensive life midway through the second half, hitting seven straight shots to pull within 12.
It was the Utes’ last gasp.
Arizona went on an 11-0 run, capped by Ramey’s three-quarter-court alley-oop to Pelle Larsson, pushing the lead to 79-56.
“We mixed up our defenses there and that was the one time we maybe got them on their heels, and they call the timeout,” Smith said “But then after that point, we really didn’t have any answers.”
Tubelis normally has a stoic demeanor on the court, but the frustrating start coming off a quiet game against Stanford had him broiling with anger.
The Lithuanian big man missed a shot at the rim, then was called for a loose-ball foul near midcourt that he didn’t agree with. Tubelis kicked the ball about 10 rows deep into the stands and, after the officials reviewed the play during a timeout, was hit with a technical foul.
“You can’t do what you did,” Lloyd said. “He’s a great kid. He’s had an incredible year, but you can’t boot the ball into the stands. This isn’t like open gym. This is a game with rules and customs and standards.
Tubelis finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes.
Utah squandered its opportunity for a huge NCAA Tournament resume booster.
Arizona has a knack for bouncing back from losses under coach Tommy Lloyd. The Wildcats did it again with an impressive all-around performance, improving to 17-4 against Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
Arizona hosts Colorado on Saturday.
Utah visits Arizona State on Saturday at 4 p.m. on the 98.7, Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.