Arizona smothers Utes in opener

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

Utah didn’t look like the team that won 24 games, the team that won the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship or the team that won the MWC tournament.

From the opening tip, the No. 12 seed Arizona Wildcats worked the No. 5-seeded Runnin’ Utes, controlling the pace of the game and shutting down Utah’s offense with a full-court press, leading to an 84-71 victory for the Wildcats at American Airlines Arena in Miami.

“I don’t think that’s the team we saw on tape, but we knew we were going to get a good shot from them,” said head coach Jim Boylen. “I thought they played with a sense of urgency. You’ve got to give them credit for that, and they beat us today.”

A main cog in Utah’s failure to get anything going offensively was the absence of MWC Player of the Year Luke Nevill.

The 7-foot 2-inch senior picked up two quick fouls in the first four minutes of the game and rode the bench for much of the first half. He would tack on two more fouls by the 14-minute 38-second mark in the second and finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes played. Nevill played for most of the second half with four fouls and did not foul out.

Nevill’s absence down low made a heyday for the Wildcats’ quick and athletic scorers. When Nevill was on the bench, the Wildcats drove into the lane with ease and often scored at will.

As soon as he picked up his fourth foul, the Wildcats started taking it right at Nevill, and there was nothing Utah or its big man could do. Arizona finished the game with 51 points in the paint.

“I thought I was playing good “D,’ I had my hands up in the air,” Nevill said. “Sometimes you play in games, and you just get calls that you might not agree with, but that’s the way it goes.”

Arizona controlled the tempo from the get-go and the Utes weren’t ready for it. Arizona trapped Luka Drca as soon as Nevill tipped the ball to him, which would be the story for the rest of the half. This caused the Utes to hurry on the offensive side of the ball, which led to a dismal 1-for-9 shooting to start the half.

“They just made it tough in the very beginning,” said guard Tyler Kepkay. “I think that kind of hurt us for the rest of the game because I think if you take away that first, I don’t know, six, seven minutes of the game, it’s a different game.”

At the 9-minute 30-second mark in the first half, Utah trailed the Wildcats 23-10. The Utes looked nervous, shaky and tentative in their first tournament appearance in four years. They turned the ball over 11 times in the first 12 minutes and finished the half with 14 giveaways.

Utah controlled the ball better in the second half, but the defensive efforts of Arizona led to the tying of a season high for the Utes8212;20 turnovers.

The Wildcats were able to capitalize on more than half of those by scoring 24 points off of Utah’s turnovers.

“I think the turnovers were our downfall,” Nevill said.

When things weren’t going right on offense for Utah, Kepkay took control, as he’s done in similar situations all season. He knocked down timely jumpers and a big 3-pointer from the corner, which got the Utes within two points at the 4-minute 55-second mark. Kepkay finished the game with 19 points.

Wildcat guard Nic Wise didn’t miss a beat on offense, scoring in a variety of ways.

He answered the call every time the Utes tried to make a run and finished with a game-high 29 points. The Wildcats’ season-leading scorer, Jordan Hill, dominated the post and picked up his 19th double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 rebounds. The third leg of Arizona’s big three, Chase Budinger, did it all, scoring 20 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out six assists.

Utah tried to get back into the game in the second half, getting to within two points, 64-62, with 5 minutes 16 seconds left. But Arizona took control of the tempo and went on a 10-1 run, extending its lead to 74-63.

The Utes couldn’t bridge the gap.

The Utes lived on the perimeter because of Arizona’s zone defense. Launching 32 3-pointers proved to be ineffectual for the Utah offense, which shot 25 percent from beyond the arc on 8-for-32 shooting.

“I didn’t think we took a whole lot of bad shots,” Boylen said. “Did they take some quick shots? Yeah. We’ve taken quick shots all year. We had it to two, didn’t finish it off. That’s the story.”

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Associated Press

Utah’s bench looks up at the scoreboard during the final minutes of their 84-71 upset loss to Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournment.

Associated Press

Tyler Kepkay from attempts to around Jordan Hill. Kepkay was the top scorer for the Utes with 19-points in the loss to Arizona.