No. 2 Arizona aims to continue win streak at Utah
Arizona, which has risen to No. 2 in the nation on the strength of an eight-game win streak, is set to visit Utah in Salt Lake City for a Pac-12 game Thursday night.
It marks the first time since 2017 that the Wildcats (24-2, 14-1 Pac-12) have been ranked this high.
The Wildcats are led by Bennedict Mathurin, a 6-foot-7 wing and the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week. In two games last week, he averaged 22 points, 4.5 rebounds and three assists while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor.
The Wildcats' streak includes wins over ranked Pac-12 rivals UCLA and Southern California. In their most recent game, they held off Oregon 84-81 at home on Saturday thanks to Mathurin's 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd has told Mathurin to enjoy these moments.
"I told Benn, 'Smile! Have fun!' ... He's found his joy in the game again," Lloyd said. "Nothing great in life can be accomplished without joy and enthusiasm. That's been my message to him."
The Utes (11-16, 4-13) are looking for some more joy in a rough season.
Utah, though, has been much better in the past week, putting together a two-game win streak with road victories over Stanford, 60-56, and Cal, 60-58. Those were Utah's first road wins of the season after nine straight losses away from Salt Lake City.
"To get over the hump, especially at this time of the year, is huge," Utah wing Marco Anthony said.
Arizona beat Utah earlier this season, 82-64, but the Wildcats have not won at Utah since Jan. 4, 2018. Arizona has lost two straight games at Salt Lake City.
This season, Arizona is 15-0 at home, 2-0 on neutral courts and 7-2 on the road.
Utah, which is 7-6 at home, has just one double-figure scorer -- 7-footer Branden Carlson, who is averaging 13.5 points per game and is the Utes' only returning starter from last season.
Anthony leads the Utes in rebounds (7.7) and ranks third in scoring (9.0). Rollie Worster leads Utah in assists (3.1) and averages 8.1 points. David Jenkins Jr. (8.3 points) and Both Gach (9.3 points) are Utah's other top scorers.
Worster and Anthony are transfers from Utah State, Gach transferred from Minnesota and Jenkins came over from UNLV. Cincinnati transfer Gabe Madsen is Utah's top 3-point shooter, making 39.8 percent of his shots from behind the arc.
Thursday's game will feature two teams with coaches who are in their first years at their respective schools -- Craig Smith at Utah and Lloyd at Arizona.
Lloyd is poised to return the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. Three of his top-five scorers competed last summer in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup: Mathurin (Canada), Azuolas Tubelis (Lithuania) and Oumar Ballo (Mali).
Mathurin leads Arizona in scoring (17.4). Tubelis is second in scoring (15.2), and Christian Koloko leads Arizona in rebounds (7.4) and blocks (3.0) while ranking third in scoring (12.0).
--Field Level Media
Updated February 22, 2022