UCLA hits the road for two Pac-12 games when the Bruins head to Utah to face a reeling Utes team.
UCLA Bruins vs. Utah Utes
Thursday, January 20, 2022 – 11:00 PM EST at Jon M. Huntsman Center
Utah has lost six straight and has failed to top 70 points in the last five. The Utes are 8-10 on the year, 1-7 in the Pac-12 and haven’t won back-to-back games since Nov. 21. They’ve also split their last six games at home.
The Bruins are 11-2, 3-1 in the conference and split a pair of home games last weekend to end a five-game win streak. UCLA lost to Oregon in overtime, then rebounded to beat Oregon State by 16.
On the Road, in Front of Fans
The Bruins will head to the mountains for their first extended Pac-12 trip of the season. While UCLA has a road game at Cal and non-conference trips to UNLV and Marquette, winning all three, this is their first time with back-to-back games on the road. The Bruins head to Colorado for a Saturday contest after Utah.
It will also be a new environment for the team after playing in front of a nearly empty arena for most games this season. UCLA only allows family members in for home games at Pauley Pavilion, a policy that coach Mick Cronin criticized after the weekend’s loss, UCLA’s first at home in eight games this season.
“I think it’s hugely demoralizing to our guys to play games in an empty arena and there are 80,000 people at the Rams game,” Cronin said. Now, even though the crowd will be rooting against the Bruins, Cronin thinks the presence of thousands of people will give his team a boost.
“I think what will help us, is to run out of the tunnel and play a game in front of fans,” Cronin said. “Our guys should be energized. I know they will.”
UCLA is waiting on the injury status of three players. Jaime Jaquez Jr. missed the last game due to an ankle injury. Cronin was hopeful he’d be able to practice and be at full strength for the game. He’s second on the team in scoring at 13.3 ppg.
David Singleton, who averages 5.5 points and hits nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts, is also questionable after being placed in the concussion protocol after the last game.
Reserve forward Kenneth Nwuba also hurt his ankle in the last game but has been practicing.
Waiting for Help
Utah has been playing without the services of its top player and biggest inside presence. Seven-foot big man Branden Carlson has battled a variety of problems this season. He had a knee injury in December and, soon after returning from that, suffered a case of appendicitis and had an emergency procedure.
The junior hasn’t played in the last three games—all losses, by an average of 12 points. Carlson leads the team in scoring at 13.5 ppg and blocks at 2.1 per game. He’s also second with 6.4 rebounds a night.
The recovery from the procedure is expected to take two-to-three weeks, meaning Carlson is just entering the low end of that window. Coach Craig Smith sounded pessimistic about having him back for the game, however, starting the week by saying, “I would be surprised if he played this weekend."
UCLA is No. 22 in the nation in block percentage, No. 37 in offensive rebounding rate and No. 26 in defensive rebounding. So the Bruins would have had an advantage on the inside even with Carlson on the floor.
Without him, Utah will struggle to score and defend in the paint. The Utes have failed to shoot 50 percent on two-point shots in the three games he’s been out and allowed opponents to top 50 percent in all three. It’s a big number to cover on the road, but UCLA looks likely to do it for our NCAAB pick in this one.
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