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UCLA Basketball: Colorado Wrap/Utah Preview -- Meltdown in the Rockies?

Utah has the leading candidates for PAC-12 POY and FOY, they go 11 deep, they're good on defense and they can shoot. Can the Bruins hang with them on the road? After the loss to a Josh Scott-less Colorado, the answer is surely not.

David Banks/Getty Images

I'd never wish ill to any player, but I thought we caught a break last night when it was announced that Colorado's best player, 6'10" junior forward and future pro Josh Scott would sit out the game with back spasms. Surely a big game was on tap from Tony Parker and Kevon Looney. Nope: UCLA lost 62-56.

Would you believe that Parker went 1-8 with 2 points and 4 rebounds, and Kevon Looney was 3-9 for 6 points and 8 rebounds? On top of that, all four bigs had 4 fouls.

If that wasn't enough, Bryce Alford was 2-16 for 8 points. That included 0-9 from three. It was actually worse than it looked for Bryce. The losing stretch of the game came during the 2 ½ minutes from 10:04 which is when Looney picked up his fourth foul. The Buffs went on an 8-0 run to give themselves a 48-43 lead. In a critical stretch with Looney on the bench, Bryce turned it over or had a part in a turnover (he tends to throw one handed, partial look whip passes that any other coach would bench him for) on two consecutive possessions followed by a missed straight on three from beyond NBA range.

But most of all, Bruin fans will be pissed that Steve Alford let his son shoot, possession after possession, in the last seven minutes while the Bruins were trying to stay close. I also wonder about the ball screens set for Bryce. Is this a new pick and roll offense -- that doesn't work either?

The game was finally decided when Looney was blocked from behind at 2:30, and the Buffs scored in transition to lead 58-51.

Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again? That's been the Bruins' script. They go into Parker on the first play (he's blocked and then he gets a frustration shove foul), but after that token effort to go inside, the guards take over: launching jumpers, shoot 30% for half and turn the ball over 9 times. Hamilton then comes out hot in the second half; the Bruins score the first 7 points, and take the lead 34-28. Then it eventually falls apart as the Bruins get into foul trouble and they go cold from the outside again. They manage to stay in it only because Colorado shoots 38% for the game and has 18 TO's compared to the Bruins' 13. It was close because the Bruins took 70 shots versus 48 for Colorado: the disparity due to those turnovers and the Bruins 16 offensive rebounds to Colorado's 6.

For a millisecond, I thought Golomon was going to do well after that nice pick-and-pop, but he was dunked on and shoved out of the way so many times. He doesn't belong on the court at all, but what do you do with Looney getting into foul trouble every game?

Hamilton, 16 points, and Powell 22 points, were the only offense. Hamilton played Booker for most of the game, and kept him under control for 30 minutes -- thirteen points from Colorado's only offense till then and from a player whose willing to shoot anytime, anywhere is not bad, but Booker added seven more post-Looney's fourth foul. It was good to see passion from Norman in the second half, but there's nothing else good to take from this game - there wouldn't have been 16 o-rebs with Josh Scott in there.

Utah is up next. Let's not kid ourselves -- this is a tough ask for the Bruins. While they've shown they can stay in the game with a Top 20 - 50 team (think Oklahoma and Alabama), Utah is a Top 10-15 team. That said, they're 10-2 with the two losses coming to San Diego St. and Kansas. Their marquis win was over Wichita St. at home in overtime.  All three teams proved to be overrated compared to preseason predictions. Of course, they've been playing without Jordan Loveridge, the 6'6" dead eye shooting forward who was injured in their fourth game -- he's back now.

I said in the season preview that Coach Krystkowiak has given UCLA fits for the past two years in Utah. The Bruins squeaked out a win in 2013, 57-53, but lost in 2014, 74-69. He always comes up with a frustrating strategy. Stopping the transition is always first on the list, but last year let Kyle Anderson score but shut down his play-making by closing out the rest of the perimeter.  He's deep and talented enough this year that I'm not so sure he has to do anything fancy, but he will probably press the ball-handlers full-court at least in part, and possibly go at Looney with Jakob Poeltl (reminiscent of Gonzaga's Wiltjer).

If you find yourself not liking Utah or giving them begrudging respect, it is probably because you are reminded of Ben Howland. Krystkowiak calls every play, and his guards tend to hold on to the ball -- A lot. They turn it over a lot too!

Talk about deep. They've play 11 guys; however, against Kansas, seven got significant minutes although 11 did play.

The starting lineup isn't what it was expected to be in the preseason: they start 7'0" freshman center Jakob Poeltl, 6'7" sophomore power forward Chris Reyes -- a junior college transfer, and 6'6" sophomore guard from Germany beat out Dakari Tucker. This is why they are even better than expected -- Krystkowiak enhanced five returning starters from last year with two foreign students and a junior college transfer.

The rest of the starting lineup is senior 6'5" shooting guard Delon Wright and junior point guard 5'10" Brandon Taylor.

Delon Wright is probably the leading PAC-12 POY candidate (we can cetainly debate Tyrone Wallace) and Poeltl is the leading FOY candidate.

How would the Bruins beat this team? They need a little luck: they have to pull  a tactical inside straight? Norman Powell has to shut down Wright and Tony Parker has to have a dominating inside game. Why won't they? Because Alford hasn't had Norman shut down anyone yet so that he can focus on offense, and the Bruins lack the leadership on the floor to execute an offensive game plan involving their inside advantage for more than a few plays, and ultimately, Utah's shooting is too good.

The key matchups of the game are Loveridge vs. Hamilton/Powell and Poeltl vs. Looney/Parker. As an international, Poeltl isn't a post player but he's always around when the shot is up, rebounds, and puts o-rebs in. I've commented before that you do often find him outside to set screens in Krystkowiak's deliberate offense -- he looks to be an amazing pick-and-roll player, but the Utah guards seem incapable of that pass. Still, teams know him now, and try to bottle him up. I'm just not sure the Bruins can do that, so I'm going to guess that Parker covers him to spare Looney, but plays off him except deep inside.

You really only have to cover Wright, Loveridge and Poeltl. If you put Powell on Wright, then you have to put Hamilton on Loveridge - or try Looney. In the end, is this where Utah wins the game?

Here's the stat analysis. Utah leads in five of the eight Four Factors (forgive the malapropism but I decided to show the defensive Four Factors). Again, thank you Mr. Looney for giving the Bruins an offensive rebounding advantage and it is odd that we actually found a team turning it over more than the Bruins.

Pts FG% FT% 3P% Rebs OR DR Assists TO Stls Blk eFG% FTR OR% TO%
UTAH 76.1 50.6 66 38.8 37.9 10.1 27.8 14.8 12.9 6.8 5.6 57.1 50.4 33.9 19.5
UCLA 75.6 43.1 65.8 36 41.8 13.7 28.1 15 13.4 7.5 4.5 48.6 41.9 35.2 18.6
UTAH Def 56.9 36.6 70.2 34.9 28.9 9.3 19.7 9.1 12.9 6.8 3.3 41.8 30.4 24.9 19.5
UCLA Def 70.8 40.6 69.8 31.8 36.3 11.1 25.2 14.3 13.2 6.9 3.8 47.2 33.5 28.3 18.3

Delon Wright 12 32 15.8 5 5.3 2.3 0.9 1.8 0.586 0.74 0.33
Jordan Loveridge 5 22 12 2.6 1.4 0.8 0 2.2 0.5 0.92 0.55
Jakob Poeltl 12 24 10.3 8.4 0.4 0.5 2.3 1.8 0.662 0.46 0
Brandon Taylor 12 28 9.6 2.3 2.9 1.3 0 1.3 0.437 0.87 0.37
Dakarai Tucker 8 21 7.8 2.9 0.5 0.6 0.4 1 0.412 0.54 0.36
Brekkott Chapman 12 18 7.6 3.3 0.6 0.8 0.6 1.5 0.508 0.72 0.5
Kenneth Ogbe 12 19 6.5 2.4 0.7 0.2 0.1 1.2 0.429 0.68 0.42
Kyle Kuzma 12 10 4.9 2 0.8 0.1 0.2 0.8 0.526 0.56 0.36
Chris Reyes 12 17 4.2 4.4 0.4 0.4 0.6 1 0.513 0.56 0
Dallin Bachynski 12 12 3.7 2.4 0.1 0.3 0.3 0.5 0.6 0.74 0
Isaiah Wright 12 14 2.1 0.7 2.6 0.1 0.2 1.1 0.348 1 0.35
Jeremy Olsen 8 7.1 1.6 2.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.6 0.231 0.58 0
Austin Eastman 7 2.4 0.4 0.4 0 0.1 0.1 0.1 0 0.75 0
Totals 12 -- 76 38 15 7 6 13 0.51 0.66 0.39

Can the Bruins beat a team on the road that has the leading candidates for POY and FOY, goes 11 deep, plays solid defense and shoots well?  Probably not, but let's hope for a Utah turnover meltdown, an off-night from Loveridge, and a dominant performance from Tony Parker (unlikely based on his Colorado performance).