Utah Basketball Preparing For Showdown With No. 8 Arizona

Feb 6, 2024, 6:47 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Runnin’ Utes will be home this weekend and preparing for a showdown with the top team in the Pac-12 in the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats.

The Utes have been a formidable foe at home, currently sitting 12-0 on the season, but will be facing one of their toughest challenges yet in the Huntsman Center for the 2023-24 season.

Utah did pick up some nice momentum last weekend against a decent Colorado team in front of the home crowd that they are hoping will carry over to this weekend as the regular season starts to wind down.

Utah Needs To Build Off Colorado Momentum

Despite being a force at home, Utah is not the best on the road and suffered a particularly bad outing almost two weeks ago against the Washington schools that left fans wondering if they had anything left in the tank.

The answer of course was “yes” as the Utes rebounded from disappointment well at home against the Buffs to the tune of a 73-68 victory.

However, the stakes are higher this week and the competition harder with a Top-10 opponent rolling in.

Utah head coach Craig Smith was hopeful in the Colorado post-game some of that confidence and momentum would roll into this week.

“These dudes have been going hard for a long period of time and when you’re coming off the way we performed last week- it’s hard,” Smith said. “You’ve got to be able to regroup and regather yourself. We have a great locker room. It was big to get this one and now we have a really tough stretch this week with the Arizona schools coming in. We’re going to have to be really on-point with both of these teams to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Runnin’ Utes Turn Attention To No. 8 Arizona

The last time these two teams met back in early January in Tucson didn’t go so great for Utah. Despite keeping things close for a half, Arizona eventually ran away with the game 92-73.

Having the ability to have another crack at the now No. 8 Wildcats from the comfort of home is an exciting and motivating prospect that Smith and the Utes want to take advantage of and hope the fans will be excited about too.

“Obviously, they are in first place in the Pac-12,” Smith said. “They’ve played a very tough schedule- I think they are No. 4 in the NET today and have been Top Five pretty much all year in the NET rankings. The longer the season goes, the more I think those NET rankings tell you what teams truly are. I think when you coach 18–24-year-olds, they see it and get super excited about it. Our fan base- I hope they are really excited about it. Hopefully they will come out and support our team on Thursday evening.”

Huntsman Homecourt Advantage

Everyone knows the McKale Center is a respected venue in college basketball. It certainly played a role in the outcome of the first match.

The Huntsman Center is also a revered venue in college hoops, though it’s been a little dormant in recent years. However, the 2023-24 season has seen the Hunty start coming back to life- something Smith would like to take advantage of Thursday night.

“I think we’ve had a lot more fans consistently show up to our games this year as compared to the last two years,” Smith said. “I think that really impacts winning. I’ve said that many, many times. Arizona is a great example- I mean, they are basically sold out every night and you feel that fan base. It’s really, really difficult to win there. We are going to have play really good basketball. You don’t ever have to play perfect, but we are going to have to play a good basketball game. Come in there with a great game plan. This is an environment I know our guys are excited to compete in.”

Runnin’ Utes Crossing Fingers For Better Health

In the last meeting between these two teams, the Utes had to manage a key injury to Keba Keita early in the game that changed the complexion of the competition greatly.

Smith says his team has strangely become accustomed to injuries in games with Rollie Worster, Lawson Lovering, and Deivon Smith being other examples, though thankfully all of them are back aside from Worster.

Smith is hopeful Utah can get through competing with a very talented and athletic Arizona team without any incident.

“That was tough, if I remember correctly Keba played three minutes- four minutes in that game and came down with an ankle,” Smith said. “It changes us. At the same time, it seems like we are getting awfully used to all these injuries happening. It’s kind of- you almost expect it in a weird way. Keba is such a force. Keba plays with elite force. He does things that are very difficult to teach with his athleticism and speed- his strength. He impacts the game. An elite rebounder, great shot blocker. He changes us. We were just without Lawson for, five games? That changed us. To be able to have both of these guys back and hopefully for the whole game- that really helps because the physicality that Keba brings to the table and that Lawson brings to the table- you’ve got to have against a team like this.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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