Utes lose to UCLA with key home stand looming
I'm not one of those people that thinks every loss (or win for that matter) means something major or significant in the long run. Sometimes you just go on the road and get pushed around by a team that is playing well and is frankly, a lot better than you. That is what happened Saturday afternoon as the Utes dropped one to the Bruins, 80-66. The Utes were actually playing well and looked like they would have a chance to win this game. Through 20 minutes, Utah was only down 33-31 and were hanging tough despite some missed opportunities. Where the game was lost for Utah was the opening minutes of the second half. Utah committed several turnovers, some that weren't forced, and couldn't stop the Bruins defensively. Before you knew it the Utes were down 54-36 and never seriously threatened after that. The Utes did pull the game within 10 at 74-64, but it was too little, too late. Sweeping a road trip is nearly impossible, especially for a team that already struggles on the road. To help give some context, the Arizona Wildcats swept the L.A. teams on the road this year for the first time since the 2004-2005 season when they were led by Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye and Lute Olsen was still their coach. To take that another step, Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 that has swept a road trip this season. I'm not excusing the way the Utes played in the second half, but understanding how difficult it has been for some good Arizona teams to sweep this road trip should be noted as well.
The Utah program has come a long way since the embarrassing 6-win season just two years ago, but games like this one against UCLA are a healthy reminder of how much further they have left to go. This was the second time this year that the Utes looked over-matched and a couple notches down from the team they're facing. The other game that I noticed that this was the case was against the Arizona Wildcats, even though they only lost by 9 at McKale.
Looking ahead at the final stretch of the regular season, the ideal and best case scenario would be for the Utes to go 4-1 in their last 5 games. Because that may be asking for a little too much from this team, I think they have a great chance at going 3-2 to finish the year off. I do believe that the Utes will beat Arizona State and Colorado at home, but the two games that I could see Utah both winning and losing are the games against Arizona at home and Stanford on the road. I don't see the Utes beating Cal on the road, that's a good team that has won 3 of 4 including a win over Arizona who was undefeated at the time. One troubling trend that showed its ugly face against the Bruins is the absence of Jordan Loveridge in key road games. In two of the last three road games, Loveridge has shot a combined 4-18 from the field for just 10 points. Against UCLA, he only took seven shots while Princeton Onwas took eight. As one of the team leaders, there are a lot of expectations placed on him and in key road games, he has to play well. Utah will need a productive Jordan Loveridge in this key home stand with the Arizona schools and Colorado. In most home games, Loveridge has played well and has been a leader for this team and that is how I expect things to go starting on Saturday night. I'll have more specific game previews as we get closer to each game, but I do believe Utah can and should win two of the three home games and will have a great shot of winning all three.
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