Utah vs UCLA Preview and Prediction
Utah vs UCLA Basketball Preview
An underrated Pac-12 showdown is on tap tonight as the Utah Utes head to Pauley Pavilion to take on the UCLA Bruins.
UCLA and Utah played each other just once last season and once in 2015-16. Last winter, the Bruins secured an 83-82 victory against the Utes at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City (Jan. 14, 2017). Utah defeated UCLA in the most recent meeting in Pauley Pavilion, edging the Bruins by a 75-73 on Feb. 18, 2016. UCLA will play at Utah on Thursday, Feb. 22. UCLA has posted a 9-7 all-time record against Utah and has won five of the eight meetings against the Utes since they joined the conference, prior to the 2011-12 school year. This Thursday’s game will mark just the fourth game for Utah against UCLA in Pauley Pavilion (UCLA has gone 2-1 in Pauley Pavilion versus Utah).
As those numbers show, this game figures to be tight throughout, without much room for error by either side.
How has Utah done recently?
Utah managed to comeback from double-digit deficits to both Arizona and Arizona State this past week, but it wasn’t enough as the Runnin’ Utes fell to the Wildcats, 94-82, last Thursday and then fell 80-77 to the Sun Devils on Sunday.
Down by as many as 17 points overall against the Wildcats, Utah managed to comeback and tie the game at 77-77 with 3:45 left to play, but the Utes would come up empty in 11 of its next 13 possessions. Arizona countered over the final 3-plus minutes, converting 15-of-16 from the free throw line.
Utah erased an early 11-point deficit to the Sun Devils and led by a point at the break, up 36-35, but in a game that had 11 ties and 18 different lead changes, ASU came up with a bucket down the stretch to take a two-point lead and Utah’s three-pointer in the waning moments was no good.
How has UCLA done recently?
The Bruins have won five of its last six games, which includes coming off a double-overtime loss to Stanford (99-107) and a 107-84 win over Cal this past weekend.
The Bruins rank first in Pac-12 and 9th in the nation with 29.9 defensive rebounds per game. They also rank No. 1 in Pac-12 in total rebounds (654) and rebounds per game (40.88).
Thomas Welsh ranks No. 2 in the league with 11.1 rebounds per game average and Aaron Holiday ranks among top players in Pac-12 in scoring (19.4) and assists (5.3).
Even more impressive, the junior guard from Chatsworth, Calif., has registered 24.8 points per game in four Pac-12 contests this season. He has twice scored at least 30 points this season (career-high 33 versus Washington State on Dec. 29, and 31 points at Stanford on Jan. 4). Holiday has shot 50.0% in the Bruins’ four Pac-12 games, making 12 of 21 attempts from three-point range (57.1%). The former standout at Campbell Hall High School has scored in double figures in 15 of UCLA’s 16 games this season.
Five of the Bruins’ eight primary rotation players did not see action on the court for UCLA last season. Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski (redshirt sophomores) played as true freshmen in 2015-16 but took redshirt years in 2016-17. Freshmen Jaylen Hands, Chris Smith and Kris Wilkes have played vital roles midway through the Bruins’ 2017-18 campaign. Wilkes (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Hands (11.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) are UCLA’s second and fourth-leading scorers, respectively. Smith has scored in double figures three times, most recently totaling 10 points in UCLA’s home victory against South Dakota (Dec. 19).
Key for Utah
Utah is shooting .785 from the charity stripe, which heading into the week ranked No.1 in the Pac-12 and No. 6 overall in the nation. The .785 free throw percentage is on pace to rank among Utah’s all-time top-five single season records. Utah’s best-ever free throw percentage in a season was .791 back in 1992-93.
Matchup to watch
Will Utah slow down Aaron Holiday?
In Utah’s previous two contests, the Runnin’ Ute defense has limited the opponent’s top-scorer to below his season average: Arizona’s Allonzo Trier came in averaging 21.3 points per game, but scored just seven points, while Arizona State’s Tra Holder averaged 22.1 points, but scored just 11 points on the evening.
If Utah wants to escape Pauley Pavilion with a victory they will need to slow down Aaron Holiday, something they have had success doing against other opponents (limiting the leading scorer). If they can keep him under 20 points, they will have a great chance to win the game.
LINE: -6.5 UCLA
UPSET: Utah 78 UCLA 73
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