Utah Utes vs. Arizona Wildcats Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 8th 2024

No. 8 Arizona defeated Utah by 19 points when the teams met earlier this season, but a change of venue might make all the difference in the rematch Thursday night in Salt Lake City.

The Utes (15-7, 6-5 Pac-12) are 12-0 at home this season, including a 73-68 victory over Colorado on Saturday.

It figures to be a raucous environment inside Huntsman Center as Arizona (17-5, 8-3) arrives with a one-game lead in the conference standings and riding its first three-game winning streak since starting the season 8-0.

The Wildcats are only 2-3 in Pac-12 road games.

Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd has been focused on his team’s defense, which hasn’t always traveled with the team on the road. It was that defense, though, that fueled the Wildcats’ comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit to an 82-71 home win over Stanford on Sunday.

“We’re built to be a great defensive team,” Lloyd said. “Now we just need to do it all the time, and for the most part we have all year. Our defense, it’s maybe left us a few times and it’s been pretty glaring, but for the most part it’s been pretty good.”

Utah can match Arizona’s size, but the Wildcats had a plus-18 rebounding edge in a 92-73 victory over the Utes in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 6. Arizona also shot 60.3 percent from the field.

Utah is led by 7-foot center Branden Carlson, who averages 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The fifth-year player has blocked 218 shots in his career, and he needs two more to pass David Foster for the school’s all-time record.

The Utes got a boost last weekend with the return of 7-foot-1 Lawson Lovering, who had missed almost all of the previous five games before returning against Colorado. He had nine points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes, helping anchor a Utah defense that held the Buffaloes to 37.9 percent shooting.

“It’s great to have Lawson Lovering back,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “I thought he was outstanding, played 22 minutes and he had done hardly anything for three weeks.

“He just does a lot of things that don’t show up in a stat sheet. The way he guards … some of the things that he can do out there just really helps us on that end of the floor.”

Gabe Madsen averages 13 points for Utah, and Deivon Smith is at 11.3 per game. Smith posted a triple-double against Stanford on Jan. 14 and nearly had another one against Colorado — 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

How he takes care of the ball will also be something to watch. He has committed 19 turnovers over the past four games. Smith wasn’t yet in the starting lineup when Utah played Arizona early last month.

Caleb Love continues to pace Arizona’s offense with 18.9 points per game. Oumar Ballo averages 13 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He has posted eight double-doubles this season, including four in the past seven contests.

“He’s rising to the moment and he’s battling,” Lloyd said. “I like the trend we’re on, let’s keep it going.”

–Field Level Media

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