Utah’s biggest unranked 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 game.
Majerus, who died of heart failure on Dec. 1, 2012, at age 64, led Utah to a 76-51 win over top-seeded Arizona in the 1998 Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four that year.
Asked by a reporter about the anniversary, Utah head coach Craig Smith said his team was unaware of his coming into the game, but he said he always admired Majerus, the only head coach to lead Utah to the national title game.
“I remember as a young coach when he was on TV for a while, I would just like to listen to him because of his detail and his ability to communicate,” Smith said after the win at his team’s home against the Wildcats on Thursday, two weeks. after suffering a loss to Sam Houston State. “What a legendary figure. That’s pretty cool. But we haven’t shared that with our guys, but I’ll share that tomorrow.”
Majerus, an assistant on Al McGuire’s 1977 Marquette team that won a national championship, coached Utah from 1989 to 2004. During that time, Utah reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times.
Thursday’s game was the program’s first win against an Associated Press top-five team since Dec. 30, 2000, when it beat No. 1. 1 Alabama, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The program had lost 12 straight games against the top five teams before Thursday’s victory.
The Wildcats, ranked first in the nation with a 64.5% inside-arc clip, struggled throughout their conference opener. After going 9 for 33 in the first half and entering the break with a 42-25 deficit, Arizona couldn’t close the gap in the second half. Although the Wildcats shot less than six points with 14:06 left in the game, a Utah team that was more relentless than efficient (the team shot 44% from the field) extended their lead over the section.
Senior Branden Carlson was one of four Utes who finished in double digits.
Arizona has been widely regarded as one of America’s most talented teams, despite losing three players to the top 33 picks in the NBA Draft last summer. The Wildcats play the fastest pace in the country, but have also managed to play some of the most efficient basketball in the country.
That was until Thursday, when a Wildcats team that had beaten No. 24 San Diego State and No. 7 Creighton in back-to-back games before facing Utah on Thursday found no answers.
Tommy Lloyd said his team could have been affected by overconfidence.
“Today we didn’t have a good approach, whether it’s the guys who are a little bit intoxicated by their success or the things people say to them, I don’t know,” he told reporters. reporters after the game. “But we’re definitely going to have to fix that and we’re definitely going to have to play better than what we did tonight.”