TUCSON, Ariz. — Top-ranked Arizona is built on balance, but when the Wildcats absolutely have to have a basket, they turn to junior guard Nick Johnson.
Johnson scored a team-high 22 points, including making multiple key baskets during a game-defining run, as Arizona finally put away Utah 65-56 Sunday night to set a modern school record with its 20th consecutive victory.
Arizona (20-0, 7-0 Pac-12) surpassed the mark shared by the 1992-93 and 1997-98 teams.
Johnson scored eight points in a 14-2 second-half run, including a running hook shot off the glass, a baseline drive for a two-handed dunk and a floater in the lane that put Arizona up 59-49 with 3:53 to go.
“In the spring, I tried to get him invited to a number of things that elite college players get invited to, and they gave me not even a phone call back,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of Johnson.
“Nick Johnson is playing as well as any guard in the country. It’s simple. He’s done it in the biggest moments. He’s terrific. And, by the way, I’m not even talking about offense. I’m talking about leadership, playing more than one position, defending the other team’s best perimeter player.
“He’s a heck of a player right now for us.”
Utah (14-6, 3-5) fell to 0-5 in road games, although this was the Utes’ first loss of the season by more than four points. Guard Delon Wright led Utah with 19 points, and he added six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Forward Jordan Loveridge contributed 14 points, and wing Dakarai Tucker scored 10.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowkiak said Arizona eventually wore down his team, especially on the glass. The Wildcats had 40 rebounds — 20 on the offensive glass. UA had a 19-6 edge in second-chance points.
“They pounded us,” Krystkowiak said. “We just couldn’t match their level of physicality. It was a whooping when it came to the boards.”
Arizona forward Aaron Gordon was only three of 13 from the field, but he channeled his energy to rebounding. He finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. He broke a 47-47 tie with a thunderous dunk off a missed shot.
“My all-around game wasn’t too good, so my rebounding is something I can focus on,” said Gordon, who had his sixth double-double of the season. “I was taking my aggression and frustration out on rebounding.”
Arizona forward Brandon Ashley scored 11 points, all in the second half, and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 10 points.
Utah started the game on a 7-0 run, including a 3-pointer by Loveridge, and extended the lead to 12-2 on a steal and fast-break layup by Wright with 12:55 to go in the half.
“It was a good feeling,” Wright said. “We jumped out early and we should have contained the lead, but we did come out with a lot of energy like Coach wanted.”
Utah’s changing defenses — including a triangle-and-two, a 2-3 zone, man-to-man, lots of switches on screens — gave Arizona trouble for much of the game.
“We kind of had that look for eight to 10 minutes of, ‘What do we do?'” Miller said.
Arizona had only four points at the second media timeout, but went on a 12-0 run in what became a hotly contested first half. Johnson helped rescue the Wildcats with 11 first-half points. Arizona led 31-26 at the break thanks to center Kaleb Tarczewski barely beating the buzzer on a dunk off Gordon’s air-ball after a rushed drive to the basket.
Arizona will chalk this one up to another game of wearing down the No. 1 target and getting the other team’s best shot.
“It was a tough game,” said Johnson, who scored 40 points in Arizona’s sweep of Colorado and Utah this week.
“It was the hardest 11-point win we’ve had this season. It’s definitely good for us.”
NOTES: Utah F Renan Lenz, who entered Sunday averaging 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, returned after missing three games because of an ankle injury. He played only two first-half minutes. … The Arizona coaching staff wore pins that featured a purple ribbon with the words “4 Pete’s Sake.” It was a show of support for Akron assistant Dan Peters,
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