The Pac-12’s leading and 4th ranked UCLA Bruins will travel to Salt Lake City on Thursday to face the Utah Utes. The first meeting was won by UCLA 68 to 49 in Westwood on January 12. Branden Carlson, Utah’s leading scorer, was absent in that game. Utah will also be without Gabe Madsen (its second-leading scorer) and Rollie Worster (its floor general) in this matchup.
Utah and UCLA are the Pac-12’s top two scoring defense teams. Despite UCLA shooting almost 50% from the field, the first meeting saw 117 points. Will we see another low-scoring affair?
Returning to his time at Cincinnati, head coach Mick Cronin’s teams have generally been driven by their defense. This year, Cronin has his best defense since arriving in Westwood, as UCLA is second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
UCLA is great at pressuring opponents into turnovers. It ranks fifth nationally in turnover percentage and 28th with 8.7 steals per game. Guard Jaylen Clark leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth nationally with 2.7 steals per game.
However, the Bruins are also potent on the offensive end, ranking 24th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. They are 26th in turnover percentage and average just 10.4 turnovers per game.
UCLA has four double-digit scorers and is led by guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., averaging 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season. In the first meeting, Jaquez Jr. struggled offensively, scoring eight points and finishing 3-for-11 from the field. However, he did pull down 12 rebounds.
Center Adem Bona had 15 points, and eight rebounds as the Bruins took advantage of Carlson being out of the lineup. In that game, UCLA won the rebounding battle 40-26 and had 14 offensive rebounds. The Bruins are 21st nationally in offensive rebounding percentage this season.
Last week, Utah was in Arizona for a difficult trip. It was swept by Arizona State and did not cover either of the games. In those two games, Utah scored only 121 points. This was due to a continued power outage in Salt Lake City. Utah is averaging 63.7 points per game and has scored 70 points twice in its seven previous games.
This is partly due to Utah’s slow pace. Utah ranks 241st for adjusted tempo and averages 18 seconds per offensive play. The Utes are now 210th in effective field goals percentage and 220th for 2-point percentage. They rank 99th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Utah will likely look to Carlson often and early to get its offense moving. On 52% shooting, Carlson averages 16.4 points per game and 7.4 rebounds. He is also the defensive anchor for the team and ranks second in Pac-12 with 2.1 blocks per game.
Utah is ranked fifth nationally for effective field goal defense, eighth for 3-point defense and thirteenth in 2-point defense.
UCLA dominated the first matchup between these teams, winning 68-49 at home. Carlson, Utah’s best player, missed the game, making it tougher to gauge anything off the first encounter.
The total was 136.5 at the end of the first meeting. The game ended under by almost 20 points. This time, the oddmakers have reduced the total by six points. But, this may not be enough.
This will be a low-possession match between teams who prefer to play slowly — Utah and UCLA rank in the 240s for tempo. UCLA might have had success in forcing turnovers, it forced 16 during the first meeting. UCLA only managed 60 field goal attempts despite 16 turnovers and 14 offensive rebound. You may also not be as efficient when playing on the road in hostile environments.
UCLA should be able to limit Utah’s offense. The Utes have missed Madsen’s ability to shoot and his floor spacing. In the six games, Madsen has been absent, they have had trouble shooting. Utah’s offense now faces its most challenging test since Madsen was out, and it will do so without its guard.
In the past six games, the under won four out of six. It has also been successful in four of the six previous series games. I believe both trends should reach five out of seven by Thursday night.
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