After playing two close games against Utah during the regular season, top-seeded Arizona (29-3) opened the tournament with a spirit-crushing defensive performance.
Energized by a raucous crowd that made it feel like the McKale Center, the Wildcats provided a glimpse of what can happen when one of the nation’s best defenses gets rolling.
Arizona ran through the record book against Utah (21-11), setting marks for fewest points allowed, fewest field goals (12) and lowest shooting percentage (25).
The Wildcats held the Utes to 13 points in the first half, another record, and matched UCLA’s 32-point win over Oregon State in 2006 to move into Friday’s semifinals against Colorado or California.
Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright, Utah’s leading scorers, combined for seven points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Arizona had hoped to make a statement in the Pac-12 tournament to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Pac-12’s regular-season champion Wildcats certainly did in their tournament opener, playing with an intensity Utah had no chance of matching after playing a close game against Washington the night before.
The crowd at MGM Grand Garden Arena started chants of “U of A! U of A!” long before the opening tip and the Wildcats turned the game into a rout not long after the ball went up.
Racing out for dunks and 3-pointers in transition set up by their climb-in-your-jersey defense, the Wildcats stormed past the Utes with an 18-2 run that put them up 22-6.
Arizona kept its foot on the Utes behind its defense, contesting every shot, pass and dribble.
The Wildcats held Utah to 5-of-19 shooting while forcing eight turnovers in the first half. Loveridge and Wright, who combine for over 31 points per game, took four shots and had no points between them.
McConnell typified Arizona’s effort late in the half, diving for a steal, getting back after he missed it and racing off for a layup after Aaron Gordon picked the ball off.
Second half, more of the same.
Utah missed its first 11 shots — its first field goal came 9:15 in — and at one point had five players on the court who had yet to score in the game.
Yep, it was that bad.
The only thing in doubt at that point was whether the Utes would get to 30 points. They got there with 4:17 left, but, boy, was it ugly.
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