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John Miller, AP
Arizona's Nick Johnson (13) drives with the ball into the defense of Utah's Jordan Loveridge (21) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Half the game we didn’t know what defense they were in, whether it was a zone or a man or a matchup. So it was definitely something we had to adjust to. —Arizona guard Nick Johnson

TUCSON, Ariz. — Knowing it couldn’t match the talent of Arizona’s No. 1-ranked team of five-star recruits and future NBA players, the Utah basketball team came up with a defensive plan that nearly resulted in an upset Sunday night.

The Utes used a variety of defenses that seemed to befuddle the Wildcats, particularly early in the game when they jumped out to a 12-2 lead.

"Utah did a great job changing defenses, trying to keep us off-guard,'' said Arizona coach Sean Miller.

“Half the game we didn’t know what defense they were in, whether it was a zone or a man or a matchup,’’ added Arizona guard Nick Johnson. “So it was definitely something we had to adjust to.’’

Afterward, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was able to talk about his team’s strategy against the Wildcats.

“We had a number of different zones: We had the triangle-and-two; we had the bump zone; we had a switching zone; and some man,’’ he said. “We can’t try to take athletes like that one-on-one. Part of it was trying to keep them off-balance because they’re such a well-oiled machine. We knew we had to bring a variety of defenses and for the most part it worked well.’’

The Utes held the Wildcats to 31 percent shooting in the first half and kept them below 40 percent the whole game until the Wildcats scored on a dunk with three seconds left.

“Defensively was really good with the exception of a lot of second shots,’’ said Krystkowiak. “We competed our butts off.’’

ANOTHER CLOSE ONE: Sunday marked the third straight time the Utes have made the sold-out McKale Center crowd nervous.

Last year, the Utes took the No. 3-ranked, undefeated Wildcats to the buzzer before losing 60-57. Jarred DuBois had a 3-point attempt to take the lead with 11 seconds left but missed a potential game-tying shot.

The year before, the 5-19 Utes led the Wildcats by three with five minutes left, but couldn’t score the rest of the game in a 70-61 loss.

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UTE NOTES: Next up for the Utes is Colorado on Saturday in Boulder, Colo. ... The Utes and Wildcats will play again in Salt Lake on Feb. 19. ... Arizona remains the only Pac-12 team Utah has not beaten since joining the league three years ago. ... The Utes still lead the series with Arizona 28-26, but have lost eight straight in the series, dating back to their 76-51 upset of the defending national champions in 1998 in the NCAA Western Region finals. ... Because it was the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Weekend, all of the coaches from both teams wore sneakers. The Arizona coaches also wore pins for former assistant Don Peters, who is now at the University of Akron and battling pancreatic cancer. ... Utah is still looking for victory No. 1,700 all time. ... The Utes came into the game ranked No. 1 in the nation for fewest fouls per game at 15.5, but finished with 20 compared to 15 for Arizona. ... Former Ute Tony Harvey, who attends most of the Ute home games, was on hand for the game, but was wearing an "A" on his red shirt. Turns out his cousin is Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon.