The Great Debate: Can the Runnin’ Utes still win the Pac-12?

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Loss to Arizona erases the Utes’ chances of Pac-12 glory

 — Chris Ayers

By Kim Brenneisen

After an embarrassing loss to Arizona, Utah has lost its shot at winning the Pac-12, plain and simple.

The new AP Top 25 has lowered the Utes to No. 12 — four spots down from last week’s rankings — while the Wildcats have climbed their way up to No. 7.

With the Pac-12 having a rough year and Utah and Arizona standing as the only ranked teams from the conference, the race essentially comes down to these two teams, and after Saturday’s win, the Wildcats have all the momentum they need to ride out the rest of the season and come out on top.

Both teams currently have one loss in the Pac-12, so it seems as though everything will depend on what happens Feb. 28 when Arizona visits Salt Lake.

Utah can surely win the majority, if not all of the rest of their games this season, but it will not come out on top when Arizona comes to play. The Utes will be too hyped, and they will be too eager to outlast a Wildcat team that dismantled them previously.

Utah will surely play better than its previous matchup, but not enough to erase an 18-point deficit.

The Utes had high hopes going into the McKale Center, but with a loss of that degree, the team has no reason to come back holding their heads high.

It would be a different story if Utah had left Tucson with a somewhat closer score, but there is no excuse for the poor performance the Utes displayed. Now, Utah needs to make a statement against Washington State, but its frustrations could easily betray them and its poor performance could spill over into this game.

The Utes need to regain the ground they lost and prove everyone wrong, and it may be the only thing on their minds. Although this might benefit the team, it would only help in the short term. Utah still has more than a month before it faces off against Arizona for the final time this season — they will run out of steam by the time the Wildcats roll into town.

When Arizona comes to the Huntsman Center, all it needs to do is reassure the voters that it is the top team in the West and worthy of winning the conference. The Wildcats will do this simply by beating the Utes again.

Reassuring voters is a much easier task than proving a whole nation of nonbelievers wrong, and in Arizona, the nation respects a program that has had more success in recent years and consistently makes the tournament. Compare that to Utah, a team that is having its first worthwhile season in ages — most people cannot even remember the last time it even made it to March Madness.

The Utes stand no chance against Arizona when they challenge each other next. The roles will be reversed and Utah, while it will stand more to gain from a win, will be hit even harder than before with a loss on the home court.

[email protected]

@kbrenneisen

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Utes have proved they have what it takes to become Pac-12 Champs

— Chris Ayers

By Ian Smith

So far this academic year we have seen a big change in the two most popular sports at the U, and they only look to be getting better with time.

After a successful Ute football season, Larry Krystkowiak has Utah’s basketball squad finally headed in the right direction. And by the end of the season Utah will be staking claim to the regular season Pac-12 championship.

The Utes were in the top 10 before heading down to Arizona this last weekend, and everything seemed perfect for a fairytale game against the Wildcats. Unfortunately for Utah, it didn’t work out that way. A stinging 69-51 loss in Tucson has everyone in the Pac-12 believing that Arizona is once again the top team in the conference.

However, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump ship from Utah.

First, Arizona is one of the best teams in the nation, especially when playing at home. With their victory over Utah, the Wildcats extended their home winning streak to 32 games. On the road though, Arizona is vulnerable.

The Wildcats lost a bad game earlier in the year to Oregon State and also suffered a defeat at the hands of UNLV — a team Utah beat at the MGM Grand in December. Arizona can be beaten and it doesn’t look like it takes too much to beat them away from home.

Utah is also a terrific home team. The Utes have taken down every opponent that has come through the Huntsman Center this year — victories that include nationally ranked Wichita State as well as three Pac-12 blowouts over USC, UCLA and Colorado.

Both of Arizona’s losses have came against teams it should have been able to handle even away from the Mckale Center, so there’s no reason to think the Utes won’t be able to defeat the Wildcats in the Huntsman.

Utah’s three losses have come against teams that were nationally ranked at the time of the contest. And it wasn’t like the Utes didn’t hold their own in two of those defeats. With the exception of the Arizona game, the losses the Utes have suffered were by a combined seven points — four against San Diego State and three against Kansas.

Two days before Saturday’s defeat, the Utes blew out Arizona State in Tempe, so it’s not like Utah can’t compete on the road — it just didn’t have a great showing at Arizona.

Both the Utes’ and Wildcats’ remaining schedules have an abundance of away games, but the big difference is Arizona has one away game against a ranked opponent — Utah.

The Pac-12 is down as a whole this season and after the way the Utes handled their first four conference opponents it’s not outlandish to think Utah could win the remaining games on its schedule. And if the Utes do that, then they will be conference champions.

Arizona is going to have to beat Utah in Salt Lake to make up for its loss to Oregon State. I just don’t think that is going to happen.

Even with the top talent Arizona has, Utah has a more complete team than the Wildcats. The Utes didn’t get good performances from Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge or Jakob Poeltl on Saturday, but those three all struggling at the same time probably won’t happen again. All three will be looking for redemption not just against Arizona, but against the rest of the Pac-12.

After Saturday’s humbling defeat, the Utes will be motivated to prove their high ranking wasn’t a fluke. They’ll prove that against Arizona on Feb. 28, and at the end of the season when they are Pac-12 champions.

[email protected]

@ISmithAtTheU

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