No. 4 Arizona (6-0) in Utah (5-2) Huntsman Center Salt Lake City 6:30 p.m. Pac-12 Networks 1290-AM, Varsity Network
G. Kerr Kriisa (6-3 Juniors)
G. Courtney Ramey (6-3 seniors)
F. Pelle Larsson (6-5 Juniors)
F. Azuolas Tubelis (6-11 juniors)
C Oumar Ballo (7-0 Juniors)
G Gabe Madsen (6-6 sophomore)
G Rollie Worster (6-4 sophomore)
F Marco Anthony (6-6 seniors)
F Ben Carlson (6-9 juniors)
C Branden Carlson (7-0 Juniors)
How they fit together
The series: Arizona leads the all-time streak 37-31 and is 16-3 against the Utes since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011-12. The Wildcats have lost three of their last five games to Utah in Salt Lake City but beat the Utes 97-77 at the Huntsman Center last season.
Utah Overview: The youth movement that sophomore coach Craig Smith started in the middle of a 10-game losing streak last season could now pay off as Utah has beaten Georgia Tech and four low-major opponents so far. The Utes won just four Pac-12 games last season but won three of them in February, including a Bay Area road sweep after veterans like Riley Battin, Lahat Thione and Dusan Mahorcic were bumped off the lineup while Smith turned more to players like guard Gabe Madsen and Lazar Stefanovic. Now four starters from Utah have starting experience from last season, while the fifth starter, Ben Carlson, was a reserve in Wisconsin last season. Carlson is a physical, intelligent player who occasionally aims for 3-pointers, while Branden Carlson (no relation) is a double threat averaging 2.4 blocks per game.
Stefanovic, the Utes’ fifth-best scorer and 33.3% 3-pointer, started on the wing while Marco Anthony missed the first three games of the season with a lower leg injury and then came on as a substitute for Sam Houston and Georgia Tech. But Anthony moved back up the starting lineup in the last two games, adding rebounds, two-point shooting and defense on both forwards. Madsen is the Utes’ leading 3-point threat, hitting 18 of 47 (38.3%) from beyond the arc. Point guard Rollie Worster, who followed Smith from Utah State in 2021, has a 2-1 assist-turnover ratio and drives inside to hit 58.1% of his two-point shots. The Utes are also reaching out to Cincinnati transfer Mike Saunders for a quicker option at this point.
Defensively, the Utes run mostly man-to-man defense but have been known to throw zones and a press on occasion.
Utah opened the season with four straight home games, beating LIU, Cal State Bakersfield and Idaho State before losing to Sam Houston State 65-55. They then beat Georgia Tech at Ft. Myers (Fla.) tip-off as Madsen scored 16 points and lost to Mississippi State in game two of the Florida event. Utah last played St. Thomas, beating the Division I team 95-66 as a sophomore.
He said it: “They build with people they obviously like and evolve. A lot of things are similar, but they can do them better and they’re better coaches and players, so that’s always a good thing.
Worster is “a cunning guardian. He has size and he knows how to manipulate offense. He’s a guy who’s very comfortable playing at his own pace. And Madsen is an elite shooter. You can’t lose him and obviously he always is moving like all great shooters.
Anthony is “a tough guy who plays really hard. Lots of shot fakes. He’s a very stable guy for her. Really helped them last year. He must have suffered some injuries earlier this year and now he’s back helping them bring some toughness to the pitch and some athleticism.
Branden Carlson is “an athlete. You can’t let him roll behind you. We know he can pick and pop, and he can shoot a little. So we have to be prepared for him. I think we’ve played against a lot of the top bigs in the country and he’s one of them.”
“The kid from Cincinnati (Saunders) is the backup point guard, something they didn’t necessarily have last year. And (Power Forward) Ben Carlson is from Wisconsin, so obviously two really good programs. I think they filled a few holes that maybe they thought they had in the squad. These are two guys who are not only good and can help immediately, but are also several years old. So they build.”
– UA Assistant Coach Riccardo Fois, who scouted the Utes
Carlson, who was a starting XI in three previous seasons in Utah, was named a second-team All-Pac-12 last season and is now playing at a similar level. Carlson blocks 9.0% of opponent’s shots when he’s on the ground, and he shoots 54.2% from two-point range.
After a potentially heady week that followed their Maui Invitational win and a climb to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 — and in an arena that may be largely empty — the Wildcats may need their vocal point guard to defeat the to maintain heat. It might help Arizona that the Huntsman Center was the scene of Kriisa’s first career triple-double last season when he had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in UA’s 97-77 win.
When UA coach Tommy Lloyd remarked with a smile that his early Tuesday afternoon press conference was scheduled to coincide with “the greatest football game of our lives,” he was no joke.
He actually likes football games like the US team’s 1-0 victory over Iran at the World Cup. And take notes.
“I actually love it,” Lloyd said. “I don’t really follow many sports seriously outside of basketball in Arizona. So I’m not saying I’m not a fan of any particular club, but I love these international competitions. I find them captivating.
“And I like the game of football because I look at the distances, the timing, the flow and maybe there’s some carryover from how we’re trying to play. You know, I’m probably closer to a football-centric coach than an American football-centric coach.”
Early launch of Pac-12
With the Pac-12 looking to reach 20 conference games by adding two of them for each team to their soccer championship game when the 2020-21 schedule expanded, this season’s league race was already underway when USC played at Cal on Wednesday.
Not that it makes much of a difference to Lloyd. The coach was asked if he would prefer to consolidate all conference games, as the Pac-12 has generally been used to with the 18-game schedule running in 2019-20.
“I didn’t spend any time thinking about it,” Lloyd said. “In any case, it’s the next game on the schedule, and that’s what the Pac-12 decided long before I became a part of the Pac-12. So I don’t spend time repeating their decisions because what’s in it for me?”
For Utah coach Craig Smith, however, it means a quick baptism against the defending champion. Willy-nilly.
“I wasn’t shocked” when the league assigned Utah to play UA,” Smith said, later adding, “You know what? You’ll have to play them twice anyway. So let’s do it right out of the gate. And let’s get better and see what we can do.”
When the Wildcats invited the families of all employees to join them on their trip to Maui earlier this month, they meant business.
Among the guests were Antonio and Francesca Fois, parents of UA assistant coach Riccardo Fois, who competed all the way from the island of Sardinia in Italy. Ricky Fois said they traveled from Rome to Los Angeles and then took a connection to Tucson before joining the team charter from Tucson to Kahului, Hawaii.
While they couldn’t hang out with their son all the time, things were going pretty well for the family.
“I was working but they had a great time,” said Ricky Fois. “They were lucky to be in Maui. It’s a special tournament with great fans and a great situation. They really enjoyed it and we won which made it a little bit better.”
Fois said his parents weren’t able to visit him during his five seasons as a Gonzaga associate but took a few games with him when he served as director of player development with the Phoenix Suns before joining the Wildcats last year.
1 — Utah’s Pac-12 ranking in allowable points (56.7)
2 — Utah’s rank in field goal percent defense (33.7)
7 — Arizona starters or key reserves shooting over 52% from field (Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo both shoot over 72%)
— Bruce Pascoe