No. 5 Utah (26-8) plays No. 1 Duke (31-4) in the Sweet 16 on Friday, and many people, it seems, are not giving the Utes much of a chance.
Well, perhaps they should.
Utah, which finished runner-up in the Pac-12 this season, is coming off a double-digit win over fourth-seeded Georgetown – a game in which five Utes finished in double figures. That includes senior guard Delon Wright, a finalist for the Naismith Awards and Bob Cousy Award, among other honors.
“They’re trying to come right in and put the game away,” Wright said of Duke on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “So we have to do a good job of starting early and competing with them.”
Wright will be asked to produce offensively for Utah and also keep Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook in check on the other end. Yes, as much as people rave about Jahlil Okafor – and he’s definitely worth raving about – Duke’s guard play has been phenomenal this season. Jones, a freshman, has recorded at least five assists in 14 straight games, while Cook, a senior, is shooting 9-of-18 from three-point range in the tournament.
“They’ve been doing a good job of leading the team and putting up points and playing good defense,” Wright said. “I think me and the other guards will have to do a good job on them and try to outplay them.”
The Utes are certainly capable of that. They turned a 32-32 halftime tie against Georgetown into a 75-64 win, shooting 57.9 percent from the floor and 57.1 percent from three-point range. Four starters scored between 10 and 14 points, while Dakari Tucker scored 11 off the bench.
“Yeah, that was a tough game,” Wright said. “I feel like the last 10 minutes we kind of took control of that game and kind of put it away. We learned from that.”
Wright said that Tucker and Jordan Loveridge, who had 10 points against Georgetown, have done a good job this season of stepping up and knocking down shots.
“That’s the real key for our offense,” he said, “when guys can hit threes and get to the rim and make other plays.”
Wright added that his team is happy to still be playing. This is the Utes’ second Sweet 16 appearance since 1998 – the year that Rick Majerus led them to the national title game – and their first since 2005.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Wright said. “A lot of teams are at home right now and we’re still playing. That’s real fun just to know that. We’re just trying to keep our season going.”
In addition to the aforementioned honors, Wright, a first-team All-Pac-12 performer, is also a finalist for the Wooden Award.
“That’s what I wanted to happen when I came back to school,” he said. “Just to have continued success and individual success. It’s been going really well. Hopefully we can finish off the season right.”