January 31, 2023

Unranked Utah’s biggest win of the year, an 81-66 Pac-12 opener against No. 4 Arizona on Thursday night, came exactly 10 years after the death of Rick Majerus, the legendary coach who led the Utes to the 1998 national title shot.

Majerus, who died of heart failure on December 1, 2012 at the age of 64, led Utah to a 76-51 victory over top-ranked Arizona in the Elite Eight in 1998 to advance to the Final Four that year.

When asked by a reporter about the anniversary, Utah head coach Craig Smith said his team was unaware of it, but said he always admired Majerus, the only head coach who led Utah to the national title shot.

“I remember as a young coach, when he was on TV for a while, I would just love to listen to him for his details and his ability to communicate,” Smith said after his team’s home win over the Wildcats on Thursday, two weeks after it suffered a loss to Sam Houston State. “What a legendary character. It’s pretty cool. But we haven’t shared that with our boys, but I’ll share that tomorrow.”

An assistant on Al McGuire’s 1977 national championship-winning Marquette team, Majerus coached Utah from 1989 to 2004. During that stretch, Utah reached the NCAA tournament ten times.

Thursday’s game marked the program’s first win over an Associated Press top-five team since Dec. 30, 2000, when it defeated then-No. 1 Alabama, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The program had lost 12 straight games against the top five teams before Thursday’s win.

The Wildcats, who ranked first in the country with a 64.5 percent clip inside the arc, struggled throughout their conference opener. After Arizona finished 9:33 in the first half and went into the break 42:25 behind, Arizona couldn’t close the gap in the second half. Though the Wildcats came within six points to play the game, 14-06, a Utah team that was more relentless than efficient (the team shot 44 percent from the field) extended their lead on the track.

Senior Branden Carlson was one of four Utes to finish in double digits.

Arizona is widely regarded as one of America’s most talented teams, despite losing three players selected from the top 33 picks in last summer’s NBA draft. The Wildcats play the fastest pace in the country but somehow managed to also play some of the nation’s most efficient basketball players.

That was until Thursday, when a Wildcats roster that had defeated No. 24 San Diego State and No. 7 Creighton in back-to-back games before taking on Utah on Thursday couldn’t find any answers.

Tommy Lloyd said his team may have been struck by overconfidence.

“Today we didn’t have a great approach, whether it’s the guys who are a bit intoxicated with their success or the things people say to them, I don’t know,” he told reporters after the game. “But we definitely have to tackle it and we definitely have to play better than tonight.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *