It was far from pretty but Arizona walked out of the half-filled Huntsman Center with a 68-64 victory that might not have been possible without major contributions from the trio of freshman big men.
After finding out he had been replaced in the starting lineup, Brandon Ashley led the charge in the first half and finished the game with 10 points to go with four rebounds. The forward played with a new sense of poise and aggression that embodied the attitude of the entire team for the first 30 minutes.
Kaleb Tarczewski used a couple nice entry passes from Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson to go 4-5 from the paint including a beautiful off-the-glass hook shot. Grant Jerrett also got into the action with two makes from behind the arc.
It looked as if Arizona was going to coast to an easy road win over a Pac-12 bottom feeder when the Cats got out to a quick second half start and extended the lead to 12 points. The margin stayed around double digits for about the next ten minutes but then Arizona’s weaknesses were once again put in the spotlight.
Entering the game, Utah’s Jeremy Olson was more accustomed to sitting on the bench than being a major contributor, as he averages less than three points a game. But when starter Jason Loveridge picked up his second early foul, Olson was thrown into the fire and responded surpassingly well.
The freshman hovered around the post and found himself in scoring position time after time. By game’s end, Olson had 12 points and six rebounds, each tying his career high.
On defense, Utah employed their version of the zone defense and it once again caused havoc to Arizona. From the 11:59 to the 6:14 mark, the Cats made just one basket – a Tarczewski layup.
Mark Lyons characteristically tried to take over but instead hurt Arizona’s chances far more than he helped them. The point guard forced passes where there weren’t open holes and launched three pointer after three pointer, even when he was tightly guarded in transition.
Contrastingly, Lyons did find success when he attacked the rim, including a couple dazzling layups. When the Utes came all the way back to tie the game with 6:23 to go, it was Lyons who made a crucial and-one that put some distance back in-between the two teams.
Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill also stepped up when adversity was at its highest, as they along with Lyons were the only Arizona players to score over the final nine and a half minutes.
Parrom started in place of Ashley and solidified Miller’s decision with nine points and nine rebounds. Hill meanwhile had 10 points to go with eight boards.
Next up for the Cats is a home series with the Washington schools. As it stands now, Arizona remains a game out of first place behind Oregon and cannot afford another letdown in Tucson.