SALT LAKE CITY – 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.
Jarred DuBois had 16 points, Washburn 15 and Jeremy Olsen 12 for the Utes, 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.
California 76, USC 68: Allen Crabbe had 23 points and 10 rebounds, Justin Cobbs added 22 points and Cal came back from 15 points down in the second half to beat Southern California in Berkeley, Calif.
Crabbe, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, got into a heated exchange with Cal coach Mike Montgomery early in the second half but regained his composure and rallied the Golden Bears to their third straight victory.
J.T. Terrell scored 17 points and Byron Wesley scored 16 for the Trojans. USC made just two baskets over the final 6 minutes.