SALT LAKE CITY — Arizona’s offense lacked a spark ever since forward Brandon Ashley went down with a season-ending foot injury early this month.
The Wildcats finally may have found one based on the performance of guard Gabe York on Wednesday at Utah.
The sophomore got the start and made the most of it. He sank numerous big shots in the first half to help the Wildcats carve out a big lead, and then Arizona took over on defense after the Utes rallied to force overtime.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats held Utah to a single field goal after regulation, and they escaped with a 67-63 victory.
York and fellow guard Nick Johnson scored 15 points apiece, and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 13 to help the Wildcats (24-2, 11-2 Pac-12) beat the Utes for the ninth consecutive time. Arizona has not lost to Utah since falling to them in the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
“We’re taking everyone’s best punch,” Arizona guard T.J. McConnell said. “We did a great job of responding to that tonight.”
Guard Brandon Taylor scored 13 points, while center Dallin Bachynski and guard Delon Wright each added 12 points for the Utes (17-9, 6-8 Pac-12). Utah lost a home game for just the second time this season.
With the game tied at 58-58, Hollis-Jefferson made two baskets to give the Wildcats a four-point lead with 1:52 left in overtime. Hollis-Jefferson’s second hoop came after Taylor missed three straight free throws, preventing Utah from taking the lead.
Wright made two free throws to cut the Utes’ deficit to 62-60, but he threw the ball away with 33.9 seconds left. Johnson and McConnell each made free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory.
“We just had to buckle down,” Johnson said. “We had to buckle down on defense. Had to rebound. They were really getting us on the offensive rebounds. And just make plays. Rondae had some offensive rebounds and some plays that he made that were great. If we didn’t have him, we wouldn’t have won.”
Utah lost despite outrebounding Arizona 37-31 and finishing with a 34-23 edge in points in the paint.
“Our mission statement doesn’t change. It’s the next game, it’s the next practice that we need to focus on,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We’ll fix what’s broken, what was broken in this one.”
After trailing by double digits late in the first half and by nine points at halftime, Utah cut the deficit to 40-33 after Taylor stole the ball from Johnson and took it in for a layup. The Wildcats snuffed the rally for a time, going up 46-34 after a McConnell jumper.
The Utes did not back down. Utah ripped off a 10-2 run to get back into the game. Two baskets from freshman guard Ahmad Fields cut the margin to 48-44. Arizona endured a short cold spell after a layup from McConnell made it 52-44 with 6:41 left, going 3:13 without a basket.
Utah took advantage by putting together a 11-2 run and finally went ahead 55-54 on a runner from forward Jordan Loveridge with 3:09 remaining.
Arizona retook a one-point lead when Johnson scored on a jumper with 2:21 left. Utah tied it when Loveridge made one of two free throws with 28.0 seconds left. McConnell had a chance at a game-winner, but he missed a runner in the lane as time expired in regulation.
“Give credit to Arizona,” Bachynski said. “They forced us into turnovers during the first half. Some guys had off nights, but we aren’t going to stop fighting. We always play to the buzzer.”
NOTES: Arizona owns 12 wins over the past 13 games in the series. The lone loss in that span came in the 1998 NCAA tournament, when the Utes defeated the defending NCAA champions 76-51 to reach the Final Four. … Utah honored former Utes player Billy McGill in a halftime ceremony. McGill, the No. 1 pick in the 1962 NBA draft, ranks No. 2 all-time in career scoring (2,321 points) and No. 1 in career rebounding (1,106 rebounds) at Utah. He led the nation with an average of 38.8 points per game during the 1961-62 season. … Arizona leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (57.5 points per game). Utah ranks second in the league (64.2 ppg).
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