The University of Utah Runnin’ Utes will have their hands full after snapping a 4-game losing streak last week when they beat Washington and Washington State at the Huntsman Center. They are headed south to the desert to square off with the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday and the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday. The big issue in the four game skid was their ability to hit open shots. We all know that a Larry Krystkowiak coached team will always bring it on the defensive end and will always give their best effort but the ball has to go into the hoop. Most people don’t give enough credit to beating Washington and Washington State because of how bad they have been in the last couple of years, but Mike Hopkins has put his stamp on the Huskies already in year one as the head coach in Seattle. The Utes also had a great week from point guard Justin Bibbins who was named Pac-12 Player of the week last week. Now onto the valley of the sun where the Utes will face 3 of the top 5 scorers in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils just squeaked by the Utes at the Huntsman Center, 80-77 on January 7th. The Utes kept up with them the entire game but just came up one play short. ASU enters the matchup ranked 21st in the country with a 15-4 record (3-4 in Pac-12), they are in 8th place in the Pac-12. Tra Holder is leading the charge in Tempe, averaging 19 PPG, which is 4th in the conference. ASU has 5 guys that average double figures. They play small ball where they really don’t have a big man down in the post. Usually, that setup is where they will want to run. In order for Utah to get the win in Tempe and upset the Devils, they will need to control the tempo. Force Arizona State to play at their pace and slow them down in transition. The Utes should win the rebounding battle because the leading rebounder for ASU is Mickey Mitchell with 6.7 per game. Hopefully the basket is wide for the Utes and the ball will go into the hoop.
On of the hardest places to play and to win is in Tuscon. The McKale Center is basically impossible but basically being the key word. The Wildcats as of right now are 16-4 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-12. They have two of the top three scorers in the conference in Alonzo Trier (19.8 PPG) and the freshman phenom Deandre Ayton (19.7 PPG). The Utes lost the first matchup this season against Arizona, 94-82 on January 4th at the Huntsman Center. The big thing for Utah is just to play like they have nothing to lose. The odds are stacked against them but you have to be sound on defense. You HAVE to get rebounds. Deandre Ayton is an absolute beast and to me is a top 3 pick in the NBA draft. He is top 5 in 4 of the 6 major categories in the conference. He is a special player. David Collette and Tyler Rawson will need to get a body on him every time the ball goes up. But the perimeter defenders need to slow down Trier and Alkins on the penetration to the basket. Lots of things will need to happen for the Utes to pull out a big upset but it is definitely possible.
Runnin’ Utes Assistant Coach Andy Hill joined the Bill Riley Show to talk about the weekend ahead.
Catch the Arizona State game on Thursday at 7:30 with a 6:30 pregame and on Saturday, pregame will get underway at 2 with tipoff at 3, both games on ESPN 700.