The Utes are off to another less than stellar year in their new Pac-12 conference. Utah enters Saturday’s game with an 0-5 record that isn’t as bad as it looks at first glance. Their 5 game losing streak started with a 55-54 OT loss to Arizona State University. The Sun Devils managed to tie the game in regulation with a 3-pointer before hitting the winning basket with 35 seconds left in OT. Following that close loss, the Utes took another pair on the nose with narrow 3 and 4 point losses to the University of Arizona and UCLA respectively. Those unfortunate road defeats were followed by an embarrassing 17 point loss at home to USC in what was Kevin O’Neil’s finally game as the head coach of the Trojans. The Utes then dropped to 0-5 following a 10 point defeat at the hands of the Cougars in Pullman. Unfortunately for the Utes, their fortunes do not look to be changing any time soon.
The Utes have the misfortune of catching the Huskies in what appears to be their prime. After a miserable conference start the Huskies seem to have found a rhythm in their new high post offense as well as a winning formula that mainly consists of incredible shooting by C.J. Wilcox, outstanding rebounding by the dangerous duo of Desmond Simmons and Aziz N’Diaye, and all around tenacious defense by the entire squad. Thus far the Dawgs are averaging a league best in opponents’ points per game average in conference play and are in the top 3 for defensive shooting percentage and rebounding. Following Saturday’s match against the Utes face the Cal Bears and Stanford Cardinals at home as well as a home match against the Colorado Buffaloes to round out the first half of conference play.
Desmond Simmons will face another tough forward in 6-6 230lb Jordan Loveridge, a freshman averaging a team best 7.4 rebounds per game along with 12.5 points a night; good for second on the team for the season. Loveridge scored a career high 24 points in a 5-point loss to Cal State Northridge. Loveridge has also exceeded 10 rebounds on five occasions in his first season with the high of 12 coming against Idaho State. Loveridge is not unstoppable, however, as BYU held Loveridge to a respectable 14 points over 36 minutes, but the freshman forward did not manage to pull in a single board. Against Sacramento State, Loveridge only managed 4 point and 1 rebound in 18 minutes.
6-2 172lb senior guard, Jarred Dubois, is the leading scorer, play-maker, and 3-point shooter for the Utes. With a team best 13 points per game, Dubois has proven himself a threat from outside where he is hitting nearly 42% of his shots. To top things off, Dubois is averaging 84% from the free throw line. In fact, Dubois has averaged at least 82% in all 5 seasons he has played in (medical redshirt). That is my type of player. Abdul Gaddy and Andrew Andrews will be the first line of defense against this solid guard. N’Diaye, coming off one of his best defensive performances against Colorado on Wednesday, should be more than up to the task of deflecting shots and altering take in the lanes.
Jason Washburn is one of the few big men in the Pac-12 that can really hurt a team from the foul line. At 6-10 242lbs, the senior center is far from small, yet his 72% free throw shooting during his sophomore season is far and away the worst statistical year he has had at the charity stripe. 17 games into the season and Washburn is just shy of 81% from the line with 21 makes on 26 attempts. N’Diaye will need to keep his game elevated to diminish the effectiveness of Washburn on the court, while also taking heed to avoid foul trouble against a big man who will actually make the freebies.
The Dawgs should not have too many troubles with this particular Utah squad, yet the home defeats to Albany and Nevada still ring fresh in my mind. The 4 game winning streak is an excellent start, but the Dawgs have a long ways to go before they can breathe easy. With 8 home and 6 road games left, the Dawgs have a solid shot at finishing the season 15-3, something I do not think they have ever managed. The defense first mindset is paying big dividends for the Huskies and improving foul shooting should help alleviate some of the pressure for Wilcox who continues to amaze fans and scouts alike.