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Arizona rallies to defeat Utah for 32nd straight home win

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TUCSON, Ariz. — The No. 10 Arizona Wildcats had gone 3-2 in their last five games, but on Saturday against the streaking No. 8 Utah Utes, they showed few signs of what recently had ailed them.

Despite falling behind by eight points early, the Wildcats methodically made up the deficit and then some by halftime before pulling away for a 69-51 victory at McKale Center. It was Arizona’s 32nd consecutive win at home.

“I can only go on what I’ve been watching, and Utah has played some excellent basketball,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “Their margin of victory has been scary.

“Maybe what we recognized today was a team like that brought out the best in us, which is always a good sign.”

Miller’s team awoke by smothering the Utes on defense and hammering the offensive glass.

Arizona (16-2, 4-1 Pac-12) won the rebounding battle by 21 courtesy of a 17-4 advantage on the offensive glass that helped the Wildcats score 18 second-chance points. But the Wildcats’ domination inside went beyond that: They allowed just 14 points in the paint and scored 34 themselves.

Miller said the rebounding numbers said it all about his team’s effort.

“It’s an interesting situation because I thought defensively we got stops but we couldn’t get rebounds — they were getting second shots,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “And I thought this was a case of our inability to get a rebound carried over to the other end of the floor, where it was just too much to overcome.”

“They get three rebounds and a basket on a possession and a score, and it was like a grind.”

The Utes (14-3, 4-1) came into McKale Center on a seven-game winning streak but struggled to contain Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell, who finished with 16 points and six assists.

Stanley Johnson, Arizona’s highly touted freshman swingman, got into foul trouble during the first half and took only one shot. But he scored his first nine points during a backbreaking 11-0 run over three minutes early in the second half, and Arizona took a 46-32 lead with 13:45 to play.

Johnson finished with a game-high 18 points and nine rebounds.

“Honestly, I guess it all starts with defense for me,” Johnson said. “The first half I got the two cheap (fouls), that’s totally on me. It happens.

“I think the first half, I saw a lot of creases and gaps,” he added. “Second half I felt like we took advantage of some things.”

Point guard Brandon Taylor led Utah with 12 points. Shooting guard Delon Wright, who came in averaging 15.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, scored the Utes’ first seven points but added just three points to his total in the next 36 minutes.

The Utes managed to shoot just 39 percent (15 of 41), while Arizona hit 49.1 percent (26 of 53) even though it went 1-for-7 from 3-point range.

The Wildcats led 31-26 at halftime despite falling behind 10-2 five minutes into the game.

McConnell scored 12 first-half points and wrote Arizona’s answer to Utah’s quick start.

“We watched a lot of film and we know that he’s the head of the snake and the last few games he’s been one of their leading scorers,” Krystkowiak said. “Our plan to defend him in was scratched in the first half and we improved a little in the second half, but then all of a sudden Stanley Johnson shows up and took over from there.”

McConnell drove to the hoop for a score, hit a jumper on a mismatch and got fouled in transition after a steal. That free throw brought the Wildcats to within 21-19.

Brandon Ashley added 10 points and four rebounds by halftime as the Wildcats outrebounded the Utes 18-9, thanks to eight offensive boards.

Guards Brandon Taylor and Wright led Utah with nine points each at halftime but only mustered a combined four points thereafter.

“(Losing) is foreign,” Wright said, “but we’ll bounce back against Washington State and just try to capitalize on things we did and try to come back out stronger.”

NOTES: Arizona G Gabe York returned from an ankle injury after missing the Wildcats’ last game against Colorado. … Utah had

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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