Utes start strong, but ultimately drop to 0-13 on road.
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Tucson, Ariz. • Arizona's players were lackadaisical on defense, shot 3-pointers they only hoped would go in and looked like a scared team, not one playing for the Pac-12 lead.
The Wildcats pulled together to grind out a win, but it's not what coach Sean Miller was hoping from his team, particularly not this late in the season.
Nick Johnson hit a 3-pointer with just over a minute left and had 18 points, Kyle Fogg added 17 points and Arizona shook off a lackluster first half to beat Utah 70-61 on Saturday.
Boxscore available at http://bit.ly/xy68bS
"I'm just really disappointed in myself and our team for having pathetic confidence in a game like this," Miller said. "We looked frightened, we missed open shots, we were lethargic. It's not alarming anymore because we're almost in March, but it's really disappointing."
Coming off three solid wins that moved them within a game of the conference lead, the Wildcats (18-8, 9-4 Pac-12) should have been ready to stomp out the conference's 11th-place team at home.
Instead, they came out flat, guiding their shots, giving up too many good looks on defense while falling into a 13-point first-half hole.
Arizona rallied in the second half behind the 3-point shooting of Fogg and Brendon Lavender, but still needed some big plays down the stretch to pull out its fourth straight win. Solomon Hill had 14 points and Lavender hit four 3-pointers in the second half for all of his 12 points.
"We did a great job of staying together and not panicking," said Fogg, who hit four 3-pointers and had six steals. "We knew we were going to win, we made them take some tough shots and got some stops."
Well, not until the end.
Utah (5-11, 2-11) was the more confident team for most of the game and hit 9 of 18 from the arc against the Pac-12's best team at defending 3-pointers. But, like it has for most of the season, the momentum ran out for the Utes, who didn't hit a shot from anywhere over the final 5:42 to lose their sixth straight game.
Jason Washburn and Cedric Martin had 15 points each for the Utes, 0-13 on the road this season.
"This game was heartbreaking," Washburn said. "We had the lead for the whole first half and a lot of time in the second half. We made some key mistakes and let them go. The crowd got into it, the players got into it and never looked back."
Arizona should have had more confidence than it showed against the Utes.
After stretches of inconsistency, the Wildcats seemed to be rounding into form as the season winds down, the three freshmen becoming more comfortable with the college game and the veterans with their new roles.
Arizona pulled off a Bay Area sweep a week ago by beating California and Stanford, and followed that with a decisive win over Colorado to move within a game of the conference lead.
The Wildcats ran over Utah the first meeting in Salt Lake City and were expected to roll again as long as they were focused.
Flat defensively and even worse on offense, Arizona fell behind 12-2 and had one field goal in 11 attempts until Hill scored on a layup at 10:49.
One of the Pac-12's best defensive teams, the Wildcats allowed Utah to hit 4 of 5 from behind the arc and to make 12 of 22 shots overall in the first half and continued to struggled defensively well into the second.
Guiding the ball instead of shooting it at times, Arizona made just 8 of 24 shots in the first half and had some ugly misses, including an open 3-pointer by Johnson that appeared to miss the basket by nearly a foot to the left. Even after Fogg and Johnson scored on four-point plays, Arizona couldn't climb all the way back from its hole, still down 33-25 at halftime.
Arizona finally got some shots to fall in the second half to get back in it. Well, Lavender did. He hit three 3-pointers and Fogg hit another during a 15-0 run that put the Wildcats up 46-43.
It still wasn't easy for the Wildcats.
Utah kept dropping in shots to keep it close before Arizona finally tightened up its defense over the final 6 minutes. Even then, the Wildcats needed Johnson's big 3-pointer and to make its free throws to pull out a surprisingly difficult home win.
"We missed a number of wide-open shots and I was helpless as a coach," Miller said. "Utah really stole our confidence and we were really fortunate to come away with a win today."
Utah's inaugural season in the Pac-12 and under coach Larry Krystkowiak has been a struggle.
The Utes opened 1-8 and the conference season hasn't been much better: nine losses in 10 games since beating Washington State on Jan. 5.
Utah ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 in scoring and scoring defense, a difficult combination to overcome, and was blown out at home by Arizona the last time out.
Playing at McKale Center, one of the Pac-12's toughest venues, didn't seem like the place to turn it around, either.
Instead of being intimidated, the Utes went right at the Wildcats, contesting shots on defense, knocking down seemingly everything they put up on offense.
Utah did it with swagger you wouldn't expect from a team with the conference's second-worst record, too: Hines screamed after knocking down a 3-pointer and Hines stared at Arizona's bench after hitting another on the way to an eight-point halftime lead.
Even after Arizona rallied in the second half, the Utes didn't buckle under the atmosphere or pressure, continuing to knock down 3-pointers to keep the game tied at 61 with just under 6 minutes left. Utah had nothing left after that, though, unable to get anything to fall in the closing minutes for what might be its toughest-to-take road loss of the season.
"A loss is a loss," Krystkowiak said. "The Washington game was a one-possession game as well. They are fun to play, but it's still a loss."
R The Utes lead by eight at halftime, but don't make a basket in the game's final 5 minutes, 42 seconds.