Arizona ends Utah's streak, secures Pac-12's top seed
In the end, Arizona coach Sean Miller was able to give his assistant coaches high fives and a big smile. His seventh-ranked Wildcats overcame poor shooting and a bad night from its star player to beat No. 13 Utah 63-57 at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
Miller said the win was "very gratifying."
About 45 minutes after the victory, Miller's smile likely grew larger as Arizona's chances at a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament improved when third-ranked Gonzaga fell to Brigham Young, 73-70.
It was a good night all around for Arizona -- because of the results, even if it didn't look pretty. The win gives Arizona at least a tie of the Pac-12 title and the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament in two weeks. Arizona (26-3, 14-2) has a two-game lead over Utah (22-6, 12-4) with two games left and owns the tiebreaker.
"Winning a regular-season conference championship ... no one has to say that's not the Final Four, but I challenge anyone to go through the 18-game, regular-season championship round-robin type of league we have at a high-major level and get through and win it and look around and say that was easy," Miller said on his postgame radio show. "To me, that is one of the hardest and signature moments you can have in college basketball.
"We feel really good. We have guys in our locker room that have now won it back to back."
Arizona has beaten Utah 12 consecutive times. The loss also snapped the Utes' 18-game home-court win streak. Arizona also was the last team to beat Utah at the Huntsman Center.
The Wildcats didn't have it easy all night as freshman Stanley Johnson was in a funk and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in foul trouble in the first half. But, Johnson finished with 11 rebounds and 12 points, although he was 3 for 19 from the floor. Junior center Kaleb Tarczewski had a team-high 13 points and Hollis-Jefferson added 10.
But it was junior reserve guard Gabe York who stole the show. York scored five of his 12 points in the final two minutes helping Arizona secure the win.
With 1:35 left in the game and Arizona down 57-56, York rebounded his own missed free throw and scored the putback. From there, Arizona hung on despite shooting just 33 percent from the floor and 16 percent from 3-point range.
"I thought Gabe York at the end of the game not only did a great job on offense but he really stepped up defensively," Miller said.
After Arizona jumped out to a 17-8 lead, Utah came back to take a lead at 22-21. From there, the game was back-and-forth with Utah taking a 47-41 left on a Brandon Taylor 3-pointer with 8:50. York followed Taylor's trey with a 3 and Hollis-Jefferson scored on a dunk to make it 47-46. Arizona took the lead at 50-49 on two Hollis-Jefferson free throws.
There were 14 lead changes in the game between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the conference.
Arizona outrebounded Utah 44-35, outscoring the Utes by 10 in second-chance points. the Wildcats also hit 27 of 37 free throws to Utah's 16 of 21.
Arizona needed every single rebound and free throw given it struggled to score in the second half and failed to score for seven minutes in one stretch. Arizona missed its first 10 shots after halftime.
"Not many teams shoot the ball well against their defense," Miller said. "There is a reason they have the team that they have. I was proud of the resiliency that we showed. A number of guys made big plays down the stretch. We appeared to be a team that has been in this type of game before. That's always gratifying when you watch it develop."