Arizona snapped a two-game conference skid with an impressive showing against Utah at home. Max Hazzard and Zeke Nnaji each scored 24 points in leading the Wildcats to victory. Arizona was the quicker and more aggressive team in a must-win game between two Pac-12 schools that entered the night with matching 1-2 records in league play.
Utah outscored Arizona 49-41 in a wide open second half, but it was too little too late as the Wildcats jumped out to a significant 52-28 halftime lead. The Wildcats made 20-of-37 shots in the opening frame, which included an impressive 8-for-14 effort from behind the 3-Point arc. Max Hazzard tied his season-high in scoring with 14 points at the break, and would match freshman forward Zeke Nnaji with a team-leading 24 points on the night.
The Wildcats (12-5, 2-2 Pac-12) outscored the Utes 14-4 in points off of turnovers and held a decisive 16-1 advantage in fast break points to build a 24-point advantage at the break.
In the second half, Arizona would extend its lead to 27 points before the Utes (10-6, 1-3 Pac-12) rallied and cut into the deficit to only trail by 16. However, the Wildcats would continue to lean on the visitors and extend its lead back to 27 points late before pulling their foot off the gas and winning 93-77.
Max Hazzard had a season-high 24 points. Zeke Nnaji produced his sixth 20-plus point outing of the season with 24 of his own. Hazzard sank 6-of-10, 3-Point attempts, while Nnaji led all Wildcats with eight rebounds. Dylan Smith answered a rough showing in the state of Oregon with 12 points, six assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. Josh Green also responded to Sean Miller’s challenge to the Wildcat guards by contributing in all areas with eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers.
For Utah, Riley Bitten finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Timmy Allen also scored 16 for the Utes.
How Arizona Won?
Arizona had a season-high in 3-Point baskets, but that is only half the story. The Wildcats dominated the game from start to finish with an aggressive, attacking style of play on both ends. Arizona finished with a plus-six rebounding edge, had 23 assists for the game, had eight steals, and outscored the Utes 23-6 in points off of turnovers. Arizona was far from perfect, but the level of intensity was impressive coming off the heels of a difficult road trip where Arizona was swept by the Oregon schools for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. Impressively, Arizona guards combined to dish out 19 assists and only commit three turnovers, with no Wildcat guard committing more than one turnover. Impressively, starting guards Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Dylan Smith accounted for 15 assists and one turnover.
The X Factor against Utah was in the numbers. Arizona outrebounded Utah 38-32. The Wildcats had five defensive blocks and eight steals. Arizona had 23 assists on 33 made field goals. The Wildcat guards combined to pull down 18 rebounds. Arizona had 15 second chance points compared to only six for Utah. When Arizona’s doing the tough things, they are a difficult team to beat. Against Utah, Arizona was doing the tough stuff on both ends of the floor and led by 27 points twice in the second half as a result of their effort.
Player of the Game
Max Hazzard turned in a season-high scoring performance with 24 points. The fifth year senior knocked down five of his first six, 3-Point attempts to give the Wildcats some much-needed punch off the bench. Hazzard was a star scorer at UC Irvine, but has had an up and down year so far in his only season as a Wildcat. Tonight’s effort on both ends of the floor showed why Sean Miller welcomed the graduate transfer into the Wildcat program with open arms. Arizona needs strong showings from its role player to win key road games and make noise in postseason tournaments. While no one will expect 20-point games from Hazzard every time out, more consistency from this experienced collegiate athlete will undoubtedly serve Arizona well.
Stat of the Game
Arizona made a season-high 15, 3-Pointers. The Wildcats were consistent from deep, knocking down 8-of-14 tries in the first half and 7-of-15 attempts in the second half. Meanwhile, Utah did hit 10 treys of its own, but was just 2-for-11 shooting from deep in the decisive first half.
Arizona hosts No. 20 Colorado on Saturday. Tip time is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on FOX. The Buffaloes defeated Arizona State 68-61 in Tempe on Thursday to improve their record to 14-3, 3-1 Pac-12.