There is not a world in which UCLA should lose to Utah this Thursday. A win against Utah is the definition of meh. Not only has Utah not won on the road in the Pac-12, it has not won on the road this season. Not only has Utah just dismissed its leading scorer Josh Watkins, he is arguably their most important player as their PG and leads them in assists and points by large margins.
I realize Utah is coming off its best game of the year, a 64-43 win over ASU at home. That's nice. They may not be the worst team in the Pac-12 as everyone predicted preseason. But more importantly, UCLA is certainly not the best team in the Pac-12 as the writers predicted in the pre-season.
I will go through a preview here for you but I will readily admit this game is not about the "runnin' Utes."
The four questions for this game will be:
1. Will the Bruin players show some mental toughness and bounce back after the worst road trip to the state of Oregon in 40+ years?
2. Will Coach Ben Howland finally play Jones less than 35 minutes and Jerime Anderson 30 or less, his optimal number according to CBH?
3. Will Anthony Stover finally play the most minutes of any UCLA player at center?
4. Will the Wear twins not play out of position at SF or C?
My opinions of the four questions.
1. These players play hard. Against a bad team at home that should be enough.
2. The only way Jones and Anderson play less minutes is if we blow out Utah. I think there is a good chance of that. Hopefully Powell gets a lot of meaningful minutes early on when the game is not in doubt.
3. Stover should play more minutes but more importantly see below.
4. Travis and David should alternate at PF. They are good power forwards. They should NEVER play the small forward slot. As far as center, I understand certain situations may be a good idea for Travis to play the center (e.g. when the other team is fouling) but generally only Smith and Stover should be at center.
Now, on to the Utes.
Utah's leading sorcerer is Jason Washburn. Jason is a 6'10" redshirt junior center. Jason is an inside player shooting 56% from the field and rebounding at 6.5 boards per game, he even made WWL's SportsCenter. Of course it was for worst play of the week, as he received a pass off the head.
Anthony Odunsi faked a shot and, as Jason Washburn turned to box out, Odunsi decided to pass the ball to him. Of course, this proved to be a poor decision, as... Well, watch this (all the way to No. 7):
By the way, that boing! sound was not only dubbed by ESPN, it was actually heard throughout the arena.
On to more positive Utes news, their big win of the season was keyed by hot shooting from 6'4" inch wing Cedric Martin. Cedric shoots 40% from three (11th in Pac-12) where he takes most of his shots and is a guy to keep an eye on.
The Utes really rely on getting hot from three as Chris Hines, the shooting guard for the Utes, in conference shoots even more threes, shooting 6 of his 8.7 shots a game from three. This is a good thing for the Utes as he shoots 33.7% from three but only 33.1% overall. But hey Martin and Hines combined to beat ASU by going 9-15 from three. UCLA has to play them honest.
Farr Not Flashy But Continues Solid Contributions
Junior forward Dijon Farr has been a solid contributor for the Utes this year on both ends of the floor. For the season, Farr is shooting 50.0% from the field (51-of-102) and that number improves to 52.5% in league games (21-of-40). He is averaging 6.3 points per game, fourth best on the squad and 4.1 rebounds per contest, second on the team to Washburn.
Farr has also stepped up his defense and leads the Utes in steals with 17, averaging nearly a swipe per game. In Pac-12 games he is averaging almost a block per contest as well. Against Arizona, he posted a career-high three blocks, the most by any Ute in a single game this season, then followed up with a game-high three steals against Arizona State.
The new starting PG is a true freshman in Kareem Storey. Storey has put up double digit points and six assists in both starts but many of those points were from the free throw line. If we were playing in a true arena instead of the Chianti Dan Sports Arena he would be a guy who could get rattled in his first big game starting on the road. One thing we kow for sure is that the Utes don't have much choice but to play Storey. As Utah played only 2 players in a 21 point victory at home off the bench. That probably says a lot about their bench.
So this is a game against a bad team that has not won on the road. We will win but what does it mean? The sad thing is preseason Pac-12 title talk has been reduced to others picking up Tydides tongue and check headline seriously:
Yes, the UCLA Bruins are going through strange times. After getting swept up in Oregon, their hopes of capturing the conference crown are fading fast. And with the Pac-12 down, they don't really have a chance to make the tournament at their current record, standing at 10-9 and 3-4 in the conference. This is an average Bruins squad that needs to improve in a hurry to have a chance at making it to the tournament.
To add insult to injury, UCLA might even struggle to make the NIT. CBI crown anyone?