Runnin’ Utes Drop Game to No. 8 Arizona, Season Now on the Ropes


Xiangyao Tang

Utah guard Wilguens Junior Exacte (11) in the game versus the Washington State Cougars at Jon. M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 19 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Sports Editor


The University of Utah men’s basketball team dropped a big game to No. 8 Arizona on the road Thursday night, with their already dim NCAA Tournament hopes taking a shot because of it. Utah already needed a lot to go their way, but a second upset of the Wildcats would have been a great start. The Utes made a little push halfway through the second half, but the Wildcats clamped down to seal the game.

You never really play to “keep it close,” but a tighter game would have benefited Utah. You could argue that this 26-point loss makes the win against these Wildcats from earlier in the season look more like a fluke. The Utes need every resume box they can check at this point, but a blowout does not do them many favors at all. They’re not supposed to beat Arizona, but at least keeping it close could have convinced some voters that they deserve to make the NCAA Tournament. Losing by 26 does, well, the opposite of that.

X-Acto Knife

Ever heard the term Swiss Army knife to describe a do-it-all, versatile player? Perhaps the nickname X-Acto Knife will stick for true freshman Wilguens Jr. Exacte, who was a big bright spot in a tough loss for the Utes. He hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes over the course of the season, but that may change down the stretch, given the way he’s been producing for Craig Smith off the bench.

Exacte is a combo guard built like a football player. He’s hard to handle on both ends due to his size and speed. Exacte has quick feet and knows where to be on the defensive end, and can keep up athletically with anyone in the Pac-12. His jump-shooting form is clean and it’s easy to envision him as a high quality shooter. 

Still a young and raw player, Exacte’s future with Utah looks bright. Toss in fellow freshman Keba Keita, and the early returns from last season’s recruiting class look good. Both have progressed nicely in their first collegiate seasons.

On the Ropes

Utah has four games left on the schedule, two at home and two on the road. Arizona State is up next on Saturday. A fellow bubble team fighting for their season, expect a dogfight. 

Then, it’s home for No. 4 UCLA and USC. They close the season at Colorado. Lose two of those, they’re out for sure. Lose one, it’s a maybe. A 4-0 close with an upset over UCLA is likely enough to sneak the Utes into the field of 68.

It’s possible, but it’ll take some work. Utah cannot afford a loss to the Sun Devils. The season is on the line this Saturday in Tempe.


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