Utah Preview

UCLA, after a tough road trip, returns home and luckily faces the worst road team in the conference, Utah, Thursday...

The UCLA Bruins return to action and the friendlier confines of Los Angeles on Thursday night when they host the Utah Runnin' Utes at the Sports Arena.

The 10-9/3-4 Bruins are coming off two difficult losses at the Oregon schools while the 5-14/2-5 Utes are coming off a home split with the Arizona schools.

Quite honestly, this game shouldn't be difficult to predict, as the Bruins are much better at "home," while the Utes are atrocious on the road. This is the kind of game where UCLA's coach Ben Howland could opt for more playing time for those players who might actually give the Bruins a chance to be markedly better by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

Utah, along with Arizona State and USC, is part of the bottom three of Pac 12 teams. As bad as the conference has been this season, the Utes have been particularly bad. They haven't been that bad at home, getting all five of their wins on the season in Salt Lake City. What makes the Utes so poor is not just the fact that they are winless on the road, but rather the manner of their losses. Outside of a close call in Palo Alto against Stanford, the Utes are losing road games by more than 27 PPG. That includes losing to Fresno State and Boise State by huge margins and getting hammered by UNC-Asheville in a holiday tournament in the Bahamas.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak knew he was going to have a rough year. Long gone are the days of Rick Majerus' Final Four run. The roster is simply lacking talent, and the talent that is in Salt Lake City is very young and inexperienced. The Utes were also the victims of chemistry issues for much of the year, but Krystkowiak addressed that when he booted point guard and leading scorer Josh Watkins off the squad last week. The Utes responded with a great shooting night in crushing a depleted Arizona State squad (Trent Lockett was out with a bum ankle), but that was in the altitude of Salt Lake City.

The new starting point guard is representative of the youth on Utah's roster. Freshman Kareem Storey (5'10" 184 lbs.) did a very good job last weekend against both Arizona and ASU. He had six assists and only one turnover against the Sun Devils. He went from playing less than 20 MPG to playing more than 35 in both of last week's games. He is quick and while the Bruin guards have had trouble defending small, quick PGs, Storey is not a good shooter. His 17% shooting from the three-point line and 34% overall from the floor mean that UCLA's guards can play off Storey to keep him out of the lane, where he tends to kick the ball out to open shooters. He averages 4.3 PPG and has 50 assists to 38 turnovers.

The shooting guard is junior Chris Hines (6' 185 lbs.), who is leading the team in scoring in conference games at 10.8 PPG. He averages 8.4 PPG overall. He is almost strictly a three-point shooter, having attempted 104 of his 148 shots from beyond the arc, and he is hitting only 33% from both the floor overall and from the three-point line. He's not a very quick player and really only starts because Krystlowiak has no one better. Again, the Bruin guards should be able to shut down Hines.

The wing position is manned by junior Cedric Martin (6'4" 200 lbs.), arguably the best athlete on the Ute roster. Martin's prep career at Minneapolis Washburn was characterized by his ability to hit the outside shot but more so by his ability to simply overpower players inside. His game hasn't changed. He shoots 40% from three, where he has 75 attempts, but he is shooting 39% overall from the floor. Much of that can be attributed to forcing shots against bigger players that he can't get by or muscle through. He's still getting used to the D1 game, but he went for 17 against the Sun Devils. UCLA's Tyler Lamb is a slightly better athlete and Norman Powell is a far superior athlete.

The one true forward in Utah's starting line-up is junior Dijon Farr (6'6" 219 lbs.), who presents probably the most difficult match-up challenge for the UCLA defense. Farr has been one of only two shooters on the roster who shoots at over 50% from the floor. What makes him a difficult match-up is his ability to be a competent shooter from beyond the arc (38%). He is quicker than either of the Wear brothers, and while he will find it difficult trying to defend one of the Wears on the low block (if Utah even plays man defense), he should be able to get around the Wears on offense, forcing the Bruins to have to be solid with their help defense.

The post player for Krystkowiak is junior Jason Washburn (6'10" 244 lbs.], the most consistent player on the roster, averaging 10.7 PPG and 6.2 RPG. He shoots 57% from the floor, although he has only attempted one desperation three on the season. He is an active post, if limited athletically, so the Bruin bigs need to bring a solid and focused effort or they will allow Washburn to have a big game. On the flip side, Washburn will find it hard trying to guard the three or four bodies that Howland will put on the low block.

Krystkowiak has a very limited rotation and it got even more limited with the dismissal of Watkins. The only players to even get off the bench against the Sun Devils, in spite of the blowout score, were sophomore Javon Dawson (6'6" 260 lbs.) and freshman Anthony Odunsi (6'3" 197 lbs.). Dawson is strictly a post substitute while Odunsi can play any of the wing/guard spots. Odunsi may have the most upside of anyone on the Ute roster but he is very raw, albeit very athletic.

If looking at the individual players on the Ute roster doesn't show that they just aren't a talented team, a look at Utah's collective statistics should certainly cement the fact. The Utes shoot 42% from the floor and allow opponents to shoot 48%. They have been outrebounded by almost 100 on the season, good for almost 4 RPG less than their opponents. They have 202 assists and 256 turnovers while their opponents have 289 assists and 201 turnovers. They average 56 PPG but allow 70 PPG. These stats become even more disparate when the Utes go on the road.

The Bruins will win this game, probably in blowout fashion. It's the perfect opportunity for Howland to start giving more minutes to both Anthony Stover and Norman Powell. Its more important in the case of Stover, as Powell has been getting consistent minutes for most of the season. Stover showed against Oregon last Saturday that he is currently the most important player on the Bruin roster in terms of energy and momentum. If he developed even a semblance of an offensive game then he certainly would be getting minutes at the expense of Josh Smith. The only way he gets any feel on the offensive end is for Stover to be on the floor.

Speaking of Smith, it seems that this is going to be a lost season for the Bruins sophomore. He certainly isn't in the shape he could or should be in, but there is clearly a crisis of confidence engulfing the Bruin center. At this point a solid argument can be made that Smith should start losing minutes in bunches so that Stover can play more. Smith certainly has more upside than any post on the Bruin roster but it's clear that the proverbial light bulb just won't come on. In spite of the criticism they have endured, the Wear brothers have certainly played with more effort than Smith and have given the Bruins enough offense to win games. The Bruins are losing games (Oregon and Oregon State) on the defensive end and it is there that Stover could have a massive impact.

Greg Hicks has written that Coach Howland has "Wear Goggles" and that Stover should be getting more minutes at their expense. Perhaps Howland does indeed have a "man-crush" on the twins, but it's pretty obvious at this point that Stover should be picking up minutes from Smith, until he at least shows effort and focus on both ends of the floor consistently.

Knowing Howland, the assigning of more minutes to Stover probably won't happen as Howland is pretty set in his ways. Fans, however, can hope for the Bruin sophomore to see more of the floor.

As to the game, the Utes don't have a player on their roster that would start for the Bruins. In fact, it can be argued they don't have a player who would be in the Bruins' rotation. They aren't as athletic as UCLA, they are smaller and they are much worse at shooting. They will almost certainly play a zone defense to mask their lack of length and size. Finally, they are horrible on the road, arguably worse than USC in the same situation. Conversely, the Bruins are clearly a different team in L.A. than they are on the road.

Utah 52

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