No. 14 Arizona's offense on a roll heading into Utah (Jan 04, 2018)
SALT LAKE CITY -- A resurgent offense has turned Arizona into an imposing team again.
The No. 14 Wildcats have become nearly unstoppable since losing three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. They have averaged 83.2 points per game since coming back from the Bahamas. Currently, Arizona leads the Pac-12 in both field-goal percentage (.515) and 3-point field goal percentage (.395).
The Wildcats' offense will face one of its stiffest challenges so far when Arizona hits the road to face Utah on Thursday night. The series has been one-sided in recent years with the Wildcats winning 10 of the last 11 meetings.
The Utes lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense (66.7 points per game) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.301). They rank second in field-goal defense (.404), trailing only Oregon.
Seeing Utah dominate defensively is no surprise to Arizona coach Sean Miller.
"They're very competitive since they entered the Pac-12," Miller said. "They've made our conference better. It's very high quality coaching. They do a real good job developing their players."
Veteran point guards have played a role in catapulting both Arizona and Utah near the top of the Pac-12.
DeAndre Ayton and Allonzo Trier have earned the lion's share of attention at Arizona. Ayton, a projected lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is averaging 19.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
Trier leads Arizona and ranks second in the Pac-12 with 21.3 points per game and is shooting 54.2 percent from the field.
If you ask the Wildcats, however, Parker Jackson-Cartwright provides critical fuel that powers the team's offensive engine. Jackson-Cartwright, who averages 7.1 points, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals, brings an important voice to the team and has complete trust from his teammates.
"He plays hard, plays with passion, plays with a chip on his shoulder and it brings an edge to the team we need," guard Dylan Smith said.
One area where Jackson-Cartwright excels is his decision making. His 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks second among Pac-12 players. He's also a highly efficient shooter on the perimeter, knocking down 50 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.
"Parker has done a real good job in a quiet way," Miller said. "He doesn't get a lot of credit because he's not a high scorer, but you have to remember the team he's playing on. In some ways, he's the perfect point guard for this team."
Senior guard Justin Bibbins has had a similar impact in elevating Utah. The graduate transfer from Long Beach State has averaged 20.7 points on 55.3 percent shooting, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals in Utah's last three games.
"I'm shooting shots I always knew I could make, but it's a little easier once they finally start falling for me," Bibbins said.
Bibbins is the No. 2 scorer for the Utes this season behind David Collette. He's averaging 13.1 points while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from 3-point range for the season.
Utah originally recruited the 5-foot-8 Bibbins out of high school for a short time, before going in a different direction because another small guard, Brandon Taylor, was already in the program.
"He's providing a spark on both sides of the floor," Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "He's competitive and makes guys around him better and is shooting the ball quite well as well. He's proven to be a good defender in the backcourt."