But for a three-pointer, the UCLA Bruins could be in third place in the Pac-12. Yet, next to UC Berkeley, UCLA has the worst overall record in the Pac-12. Despite that, this Bruin team has been playing much better in Pac-12 conference games.
On the other hand, if you’re a glass half-empty guy, with the exception of Colorado, UCLA has beaten the bad teams in the Pac-12 and lost to the good teams and one .500 team in Washington State. Furthermore, that win over Washington does not look as good now because Washington has struggled in conference play and is now 2-7 in the Pac-12, although Kenpom ranks Washington at 48 which is an amazing rank for a team with double-digit losses.
Tomorrow’s game is another big test for the Bruins. The Utah Utes are ranked 107 by KenPom to UCLA’s 125. Being at home, this is a game the Bruins should win. Utah is also a young team with sophomores or freshmen starting. Like UCLA who is 0-10 when their opponents score over 73, Utah is 1-5 when their opponents score 75 or more and that one win was an overtime game. The opposite is not true for Utah, though, as UCLA is 11-0 when they hold the score down. Utah doesn’t always win low scoring games, having just lost to Southern Cal 56-52, Oregon 69-64 and Tulane 65-61, though they beat Washington 67-66 and Kentucky 69-66.
The Utes are led by Timmy Allen who has become a volume shooter and is the starting small forward. Allen averages 18 points a game, but has almost as many shot attempts as the next two players combined. He has been awful from three this year, only making 19%. Despite being only 6’6”, he also leads Utah in rebounds. Jaime Jaquez Jr. is playing well but Allen is Utah’s best. Edge: Utah.
Utah’s starting point guard is 6’0” freshman Rylan Jones and he is the Utes’ second best player. He is shooting almost five three-pointers per game at a 40% clip. It is worth noting that he is deadly from the free throw line, shooting 87% overall. He went 9-10 from the charity stripe in the one-point win over Washington. Utah is a very good free throw shooting team as a whole. If UCLA is down late and needs to foul, Jones is good to have with the ball in his hands. Edge: Utah.
The Utes’ starting center is 7’0” Ben Carlson. Carlson only plays 18 minutes per game. He can score in close, but does not shoot outside. Jalen Hill, who is stronger, can be more effective if he can stay in the game. Edge: UCLA.
Utah’s other big is 6’9” Riley Baten. He is a threat from three, making 37% from there, but he is not a shot blocker at all, having two for the season and just three for his career. Chris Smith is a big difference here and this alone could win UCLA the game. Edge: UCLA.
The Utes’ starting shooting guard is 6’6” Both Gach. He was hurt prior to the game against Southern Cal and was a gametime scratch. While he is not the star or outstanding, if he is out or limited, it really hurts the Utes as they are not at all a deep team. The edge switches to UCLA and David Singleton if Gach is limited. Edge: Even (if Gach plays).
In some games, Utah’s bench some games is as short as two players. 6’8” Finnish freshman Mikael Jantunen is a threat inside. He scored 16 against Washington State and is the backup big. He often plays more minutes than Carlson. The other bench player who will see action is Jaxon Brenchley. He takes most of his shots from three and is effective from there, hitting over 40%. I know this sounds wrong since the Bruins are much deeper, but Utah’s two bench players are as good or better than their starters. UCLA’s are not. Edge: Utah (Again, this switches if Gach is hurt).
UCLA should win this game at home against a young Utah team in what is likely to be a low scoring affair. If they do, they are well on their way to exceeding the preseason pick of eighth place in the Pac-12.