They're going to be real tough tomorrow on their home floor and it's hard not to get lost in the glamour of being in this place. —Utah center Jason Washburn
TUCSON, Ariz. — Utah has already played six Pac-12 road games.
None, however, compare to the environment the Utes will see Saturday in Arizona's iconic McKale Center.
The Wildcats draw an average of 13,785 fans per game, 1,523 fans more than the combined attendance of Utah's last three conference games on the road — UCLA (4,434), USC (2,826) and Arizona State (5,002).
The Utes' three other Pac-12 trips — California (7,457), Colorado (6,491) and Stanford (4,981) — pale in comparison as well.
Arizona's home court is, obviously, a special place for the Wildcats.
"I know numbers-wise and tradition-wise it's a pretty daunting challenge for us," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "But it's fun. You always want to play on a stage like that. It should be a fun afternoon."
On the other hand, it's not exactly what the doctor ordered for a Utah team that has lost 14 consecutive games away from the Huntsman Center over the past two seasons. It's been almost a year since the Utes prevailed outside of Salt Lake City.
Although Arizona offers a tough venue, Utah center Jason Washburn is excited about the opportunity. The Wildcats are 11-3 in Tucson this season.
"They're going to be real tough tomorrow on their home floor and it's hard not to get lost in the glamour of being in this place," Washburn said. "Obviously the crowd is going to be amazing tomorrow. But we've really got to focus up and prepare ourselves well if we want to win."
The McKale Center, he noted, is a premier place.
Even so, the Utes are determined to end their lengthy skid away from home. Washburn said Thursday's 57-52 loss at Arizona State provided a much-needed confidence boost on the road.
"Obviously a loss is a loss and there's no way to sugarcoat that," he explained. "But we thought we fought real hard right up to the very end."
The Utes were within two points of the Sun Devils with under one minute to play. Being competitive on the road has proven to be a process and progress is being made.
On Friday, Utah practiced at the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium adjacent to the McKale Center. Krystkowiak said the Utes watched video of some defensive breakdowns, blockouts and rotations. They also ran through their man offense in preparing for Arizona.
"We're just trying to get better," Krystkowiak said while noting that he didn't pound them too hard because of the short turnaround. Other focal points in preparing for Saturday afternoon include an emphasis on defensive transitions.
The Wildcats, Krystkowiak continued, are as talented as any team the Utes have faced this season and are "hitting on all cylinders" lately.
Arizona (17-8, 8-4) has won three straight games, beating Colorado at home and sweeping a California-Stanford road trip.
Utah (5-19, 2-10), meanwhile, has lost five consecutive games. For the Utes to be competitive, Krystkowiak said significant contributions must come from at least three players.
In the loss at ASU, guard Chris Hines was the only Utah player to score in double-figures. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field. The Utes, as a team, connected on only 30.4 percent of their attempts in Tempe.
GAME NOTES: Utah leads the all-time series 28-22, but Arizona holds a 13-8 advantage in Tucson . . . The Wildcats defeated the Utes 77-51 in Salt Lake City on Jan. 19 . . . Arizona defeated Colorado 71-57 on Thursday . . . Kyle Fogg (12.6 ppg), Solomon Hill (12.4 ppg) and Jesse Perry (12 ppg) lead a balanced attack for the Wildcats.
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