#15 UCLA Women's Basketball (15-5, 7-2)
Opponent: Utah (12-8, 4-5)
When: 1:00 PM PST, Sunday, January 31, 2016
Where: Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, UT
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Utah Live Stream
Live Stats: Utah Utes GameTracker
The Bruins picked up an important win on the first leg of their Rocky Mountain road trip when they beat Colorado 82-64. Even though Colorado is the Pac-12's worst team, road games always present challenges, and particularly so when they involve playing at altitude. The 18-point victory certainly came nowhere near representing one of UCLA's better performances this season, but it proved once again that the Bruins have developed the maturity to deal with difficult environments and circumstances when things aren't breaking their way.
The importance of the victory was underscored when Stanford beat Washington on Friday night, allowing the Bruins to claim sole possession of third place and giving them the opportunity to inch closer to the loser of tomorrow's showdown between first-place Arizona State and second-place Oregon State. Of course, to close the gap on one of the Pac-12 leaders, UCLA has to complete a Rocky Mountain road trip sweep with a win against the Utah Utes (12-8, 4-5) today.
The win may have come at a pretty steep price for the Bruins, however. Jordin Canada left the game with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter and didn't return. Reports indicate that Canada suffered an ankle injury, but the extent of the injury and a timetable for her return are unknown as of this writing.
The potential loss of Canada for today's game and beyond is worrisome not just because she's the Bruins' leader in scoring, assists, steals and minutes played, but because UCLA doesn't have a genuine backup point guard. Senior Dominique Williams hasn't played this season because of injury, and the wonderfully talented Recee' Caldwell transferred in the off-season to play closer to home.
That leaves Coach Close with two options, neither of which is particularly good. One option is to slide senior guard Nirra Fields over to the point guard spot while inserting either sophomore Kelli Hayes or freshman Kennedy Burke into the off-guard spot. That option has the advantage of putting the pressure of a new role on a senior rather than on an underclassman, but it has the huge disadvantage of forcing Fields to be a facilitator instead of one of the conference's best finishers. The other option is to use Burke at the point. She's proven herself to be a good ball handler and passer in her freshman season, but at 6'1", Burke is almost the anti-Canada--she's more of a catch-and-shoot guard than a drive-and-dish guard.
Whether Jordin Canada is available today or the Bruins have to use a makeshift point guard, UCLA will have its hands full against the Utes. Utah has lost its last four games, but two of those losses came against ASU and OSU. On Friday, Utah fell to USC, 70-59.
Fortunately, the Bruins matchup fairly well with the Utes. Utah's best player is 6'6" forward Emily Potter, who is averaging a double-double (16.4 points/game, 11.1 rebounds/game) this season. However Potter is foul-prone, which means that Monique Billings' quickness and athleticism may cause problems for the Utes' big forward.
Redshirt junior wing Paige Crozon is the other main scoring threat for Utah, Crozon averages nearly 13 points/game and pulls down over 8 boards/game. Crozon may end up being guarded by Lahajna Drummer, though Coach Close has plenty of other options (Kacy Swain, Kennedy Burke).
Utah's weakness is ball handling; the Utes are averaging over 17 turnovers per game. Even without Canada, UCLA's guards should be able to take advantage of Utah's poor ball handling to generate easy points. However, if the Bruins aren't able to force Utah into an uptempo game, UCLA will have to do a better job running in its halfcourt offense. Without Canada at the point, that may prove too much for the Bruins this afternoon.