Mark Lyons helps No. 9 Arizona edge Utah 68-64
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Arizona coach Sean Miller shuffled his lineup hoping his team would rebound from its worst loss of the season.
It worked, although Sunday’s 68-64 victory over Utah was hardly easy for the ninth-ranked Wildcats, who blew a 13-point second-half lead but finished strong to avoid a third straight defeat.
“I don’t think we played any different (down the stretch),” said freshman Brandon Ashley, who was benched in favor of senior Kevin Parrom. “I just think we picked up our intensity. We saw that we needed to stop messing around and fight.”
Mark Lyons scored 18 points, Ashley added 10 in a reserve role and Solomon Hill had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats.
Ashley insisted the benching didn’t bother him.
“If I come off the bench and I only play 5 minutes a game, I’m still going to come in and show my best and impact the game in whatever ways I can — whether it’s scoring, rebounding or just playing defense,” he said.
Ashley’s steal and fast-break layup put Arizona up 48-37 with 11:52 left.
Utah, with three freshmen on the floor, responded with a 14-3 run, capped by Jason Washburn’s tip-in to tie it at 51 with 7:28 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Dakarai Tucker pulled Utah within two with 4:46 left, but a putback by Parrom and a layup by Lyons helped seal it for the Wildcats (21-4, 9-4 Pac-12).
Jarred DuBois had 16 points, Washburn 15 and Jeremy Olsen 12 for the Utes (11-14, 3-10), who have yet to win back-to-back conference games since joining the Pac-12 two years ago.
“Dakarai Tucker was a big lift, getting a couple of 3s,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said of the freshman guard, who had six points in 12 minutes. “At the end of games, that’s how you win. He gave us some momentum. . It came down to a couple of plays here and there.”
Arizona’s seniors provided them.
Miller insisted he didn’t bench Ashley because he was disappointed in him. The coach just wanted to get Parrom, who scored six points in the final 4 minutes, in the starting lineup.
“We’re at the end of the road here,” Miller said. “He’s a senior and we’re going to ride the guys who have the most to gain and the most to lose. Lyons, Hill and Parrom — they’re the guys to me who can start the game the best way and start the second half the best way.”
There’s no question the Wildcats got off to a better start, though Ashley was one player who helped make a difference in the first half by going 2 of 2 from the field with two free throws and two steals while Parrom was scoreless.
“Brandon was our best freshman today,” Miller said. “He was our best frontcourt player today. ... Brandon answered the bell.”
Arizona opened the second half with an 8-3 run, and a twisting layup by Lyons gave the Wildcats a 41-28 advantage with 17:43 left.
Utah fought back.
DuBois and Tucker hit 3-pointers and Olsen had two more baskets in the paint during Utah’s big run.
After Washburn tied it, Hill scored on a tough layup and Lyons converted a three-point play as Arizona went up 56-51.
Utah pulled to 60-57 on two free throws by DuBois with 3:15 remaining. But freshman Jordan Loveridge, who spent much of the game in foul trouble and shot 1 of 9 from the field, turned it over and Parrom scored on a nice feed from Lyons for a five-point edge with 1:48 left.
DuBois made one of two free throws and Lyons scored on a drive with 1:10 left for a 64-58 edge.
Washburn hit a 3 at the buzzer to make the final margin closer.
“He’s at his best when the chips are down,” Miller said of Lyons, who scored nine of Arizona’s last 15 points.
“That’s who he is. That’s one of the reasons we as a team really love him. When it’s close and it’s tight, he has the ability and the confidence to make big plays.”
There’s no question there was a big emphasis on containing Washburn, the Utah center who was coming off a 26-point game in a win over Arizona State. He had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting with the Wildcats, so Arizona threw double teams at Washburn and forced Utah to knock down outside shots.
“He’s been playing pretty well, so we wanted to make sure we stopped him,” Ashley said. “We also wanted to make sure we stopped the other bigs as well.”
Despite the win and losses last week by other top 10 teams, Arizona is expected to fall when the new rankings are released Monday.
With five games remaining, the Wildcats are tied with UCLA for second place in the conference standings, a game behind No. 23 Oregon.
Miller knows Arizona can’t keep living on the edge.
“We keep putting ourselves in the same position, which is a one-possession game down to the end,” he said. “For our team, it’s a matter of where we go from here. . We are happy with the win but we have to get better as we move forward if we want to accomplish something special in March.”
Arizona led by as many as 12 points in the first half as the Wildcats hit five 3-pointers and limited Utah to 37 percent shooting.
Arizona went cold from 3-point range in the second half, making just 1 of 10.
Lyons was 1 for 9 from beyond the arc but 5 of 6 on free throws and added five assists and two steals.
Utah shot just 39.6 percent and finished 7 of 16 from 3-point range after going 2 of 8 in the first half.
“I thought in the first half our defense was as good as we have played this year,” Miller said. “The second half was much different.”
Hill opened 3 of 3, including a pair of 3-pointers, to give Arizona a 21-14 lead with 8:44 left in the half.
Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan took in the game from the lower bowl at the Huntsman Center.