UCLA looks to bounce back from a long-simmering loss and Utah hopes to end its Pac-12 road struggles when the teams meet Thursday in Los Angeles.
The host Bruins (5-2, 1-0) are in action for the first time in almost two weeks, when their five-game winning streak came to an end with a 77-70 loss to Ohio State on Dec. 19. UCLA had a Dec. 23 date with reigning league champion Oregon postponed due to a referee testing positive for COVID-19.
“This was going to be a great basketball game on a national stage,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said in a statement. “Our players were ready to move past a tough ending against Ohio State last Saturday.”
Instead, the Ohio State game — in which UCLA led for most of the second half but gave up a big run in the final five minutes to lose — loomed over the team for an additional eight days.
The layoff also puts 25 days between conference games for the Bruins, who opened Pac-12 play with a 76-56 rout of Cal on Dec. 6. The blowout win marked UCLA’s seventh league victory in eight tries dating back to last season.
Conference play has not gone as well for Utah recently — not on the road, at least.
The Utes (4-1, 1-0) opened their season with a 76-62 win over Washington on Dec. 3, but they enter Thursday without a conference road victory since February 2019. They went 0-9 in Pac-12 games away from Salt Lake City last season, and their originally scheduled conference road opener at Arizona State on Dec. 22 was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test.
“Last year was not good on the road, but we’re going to do a lot better this year,” Utes forward Mikael Jantunen told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Jantunen cited the lack of a home crowd for the Bruins due to COVID-19 protocols in California.
In Utah’s visit to Pauley Pavilion last season, UCLA led wire-to-wire, building a double-digit lead in the first half from which the Utes never recovered. Bruins guard Tyger Campbell scored 22 points and dished eight assists in that matchup.
Campbell again runs the show for UCLA. He is one of four Bruins averaging in double-figures scoring per game, along with Jaime Jaquez Jr., Chris Smith and the recently activated Johnny Juzang.
UCLA features seven scorers averaging at least nine points per game.
Utah, meanwhile, leans heavily on the duo of Timmy Allen (15.4 points per game) and Alfonso Plummer (14.8). Leading rebounder Jantunen (5.3 per game) is one of four averaging between 8.2 and 8.8 points per game.
–Field Level Media