Arizona stunned by Utah in Pac-12 opener

Bruce Pascoe
Arizona Daily Star
Dec 1, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes guard Lazar Stefanovic (20) celebrates their win against the Arizona Wildcats at Jon M. Huntsman Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

SALT LAKE CITY — All those magical Maui memories, and the trip to No. 4 in the national rankings, all were put behind the Arizona Wildcats quickly on Thursday night.

The Utah Utes made sure of it.

A team that won only four Pac-12 games last season, Utah beat Arizona 81-66 before a surprised crowd of about 5,000 at the Huntsman Center.

Utah held Arizona to just 35.2% shooting — including just 4 of 28 3-pointers — while outrebounding the Wildcats 51-42.

Oumar Ballo led UA with 22 points while Azuolas Tubelis had 20 points while shooting 7 of 19 from the field. Pelle Larsson had just two points but 11 rebounds.

The loss was the Wildcats’ biggest upset under second-year coach Tommy Lloyd so far. The Wildcats were upset at 79-63 at Colorado, but haven’t won there since 2014-15, and lost 72-60 to lower-seeded Houston in the Sweet 16 to end last season. The Wildcats’ other two losses last season were at UCLA and at Tennessee.

Dec 1, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes forward Ben Carlson (1) dunks against Arizona Wildcats forward Azuolas Tubelis (10) in the first half at Jon M. Huntsman Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The loss dropped No. 4 Arizona to 6-1 entering their second early game of Pac-12 play, on Sunday against California at McKale Center. Utah improved to 6-2.

Arizona had lost three of its previous five games at Utah, though the Wildcats drummed the Utes 97-77 at the Huntsman Center last season.

Down by 15 entering the final five minutes, the Wildcats turned to a full-court press that produced some immediate results. They forced a Utah turnover that led to a 3-pointer from Courtney Ramey with 4:51 left and Ramey came down for another 3 off a missed 3 from Utah’s Gabe Madsen 36 seconds later.

But Arizona never cut Utah's lead under nine points the rest of the way, and the Huntsman Center fans stood on their feet for the final minute.

Earlier in the second half, Utah bumped its lead to 70-50 with 7:34 left when Marco Anthony drove in for a layup, while Tubelis missed a layup and Kylan Boswell missed a 3-pointer. After UA cut it to 70-54, the Utes scored three more points, one on a free throw by Ben Carlson – and two when Carlson missed his second, but Keba Keita grabbed the rebound behind Ballo and put it back in for a field goal.

After trailing 42-25 at halftime, Arizona hit its first three shots, getting layups from Ballo, Tubelis and Kriisa to cut the Utes’ lead to 45-31. The Wildcats later went on an 8-0 run by going inside, including on a entry pass from Courtney Ramey that Ballo converted into an easy layup that made it 49-37.

UA wound up cutting Utah’s lead to just six, 49-43, when Pelle Larsson scored his first points of the game after being fouled on a drive down the right baseline. Larsson drew boos when he stepped to the line, having played for Utah as a freshman in 2020-21, but hit both of his attempts.

From there, the Wildcats kept their deficit in single digits until Gabe Madsen and Branden Carlson hit 3-pointers midway through the half to give Utah a 61-47 lead.

Arizona found itself quickly in trouble Thursday, missing their first five shots from the field and things generally didn’t get much better for them the rest of the half.

Arizona shot just 27.3% from the field and hit only 5 of 14 3-pointers while Utah shot 47.4%. Starting guards Kerr Kriisa and Pelle Larsson went scoreless in the half, while forward Azuolas Tubelis missed his first six shots before scoring inside and from 3-point range late in the half.

Oumar Ballo led UA with nine points and six rebounds in the half, while Branden Carlson had nine points and five rebounds to lead Utah. The Utes had five blocked shots to UA's one.

While the Utes led throughout the first half, the Huntsman Center crowd of about 5,000 didn't really make noise until after the first 14 minutes. Utah led just 22-16 with nine minutes left but went on a 13-2 run from there, finishing it by turning Pelle Larsson’s missed dunk into a dunk on the other end from Utah’s Ben Carlson.

Utah’s Keba Keita then blocked a shot from Courtney Ramey entering a media timeout with just under four minutes left, prompting fans to leave their seats.

Arizona, playing in front of former standouts T.J. McConnell and Bennedict Mathurin of the Indiana Pacers, failed to cut the lead the rest of the half.