The Bruins were given a break playing the Colorado Buffalos the game after the lost their star, key player and quite frankly one of the conference's best in Spencer Dinwiddie. This win in Colorado was not something that could have been predicted before the season. Before the season Colorado was going to be a tough game at altitude against arguably the conference's second best team.
However, losing to Utah would make the win against Colorado meaningless. UCLA would get the preseason expected split, just in an unexpected way.
But, some fans might say, Utah's record is almost the same as UCLA's (13-4 to 14-3). Utah is third in the nation in field goal percentage (UCLA is fourth), twelfth in assists (UCLA is sixth). With the home court advantage, Utah is a tough game.
No. Don't get me wrong, Utah is better. They play like a team. They are just not that talented. Their record was built on cupcakes for the most part. Remember Weber State? Weber State's stats were padded by a 107-36 over Saint Katherine's. Utah had a 124-51 win over the same St. Katherine's. Utah also beat Evergreen State 128-44, UC Davis 94-60, etc.
Yes, Utah is better, no they are not on UCLA's level.
This may be another good game for Tony Parker depending on matchups. Jordan Loveridge is Utah's leader and he is 6'6" bruiser. I realize he plays 4 and sometimes shoots threes (only at 30%) but it would be interesting to have Tony match up a strong guy smaller than he is. Loveridge can be a force on the boards though so maybe someone else will have guard him.
While Loveridge is the holdover star the guy that has taken Utah out of the Just SC basement of the PAC 12 is 6'5" Delon Wright. Wright is the true star of this team and the kind of player UCLA thought it would have to face in Colorado's Spencer Dinwiddie. Delon's numbers are spectacular. He is leading Utah in Assists (5.4 per game), Steals (2.7), Blocks (1.4), and minutes (35). He is second in rebounds (7.2)and points (16).
Oh he is shooting a spectacular 64% from the field compared to Loveridge's 44%. He has taken over the team in the PAC 12 averaging over 18 a game and played all 40 minutes against USC. While people remember Loveridge this is Wright's team. Will Jordan Adams or Norman Powell cover him? I think Norman should but then who covers the "point"?
The other player who can do damage is the "nominal" point guard in 5'10" Brandon Taylor. Taylor is also a three point gunner who is shoots 5 threes a game. He has been a bit cold in PAC 12 play.
The other Utah Starters are Center by committee Dalin Bachynski (yes it is ASU Jordan's brother) and starter Jeremy Olson. Both are big (7' and 6'10") who shoot well in close (over 60%) but are not very athletic (not many blocks) and not able to create their own shots.
The last starter is 6'5" Darrin Tucker who is another designated three shooter that likes to play on the perimeter.
If I was a TV guy I would hype the game as ESPN does:
UCLA's Kyle Anderson and Utah's Delon Wright are clearly two of the Pac-12's best all-around players, and these point guards will be the featured matchup Saturday when the No. 25 Bruins visit the Utes.
The 6-foot-9 Anderson leads the Pac-12 with 6.5 assists per game. He's fourth in rebounds per game (9.1), fourth in steals per game (1.9), fifth in field goal percentage (51.2) and averages 14.8 points.
The 6-5 Wright also possesses multi-dimensional skills. He leads the conference in field goal percentage (64.3), is 10th in scoring average (15.9), fifth in assists (5.2 per game) and second in steals (2.7). . . .
Bruins coach Steve Alford returns to Salt Lake City for the first time since his New Mexico team was upset by Harvard in the NCAA tournament on March 21. He bolted for UCLA nine days later after signing a 10-year deal with the Lobos.
Anderson and Wright should be fun to watch from a neutral fan's perspective but the reality is this is a game UCLA needs to and should win. Any other result is an upset. While losing this would not be as bad as Alford's New Mexico team losing in the "second" round of the tourney last year and in sense wasting a season, losing tonight would erase the positives of a nice win over Colorado Thursday.