Utah Hoops Prepped For Massive Homestand Against UCLA And USC

Entering the final stretch of the regular season, Utah sits in a tie for eighth place in the Pac-12 standings. But in order to move up, the Utes will have to navigate their way around the toughest two-game stretch in the conference
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With two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's officially crunch time for Utah basketball.

Sitting in a tie for eighth place in the Pac-12 standings, the Utes will have the opportunity to move up the rankings. The only issue is that in order to do so, they will have to do it against the top teams in the standings.

Utah (9-10, 6-9 Pac-12) is set to host UCLA (16-5) and USC (19-4) on Thursday and Saturday this week. The Trojans sit stop the standings at 13-3 while the Bruins are a half-game behind at 12-3.

Tipoff for both games is set for 6 p.m. MT on their respective days and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. 

It's been a tale of two teams for the Utes ever since the calendar flipped to February.

Utah appeared to be in phenomenal shape as the second half of the conference schedule began, getting consecutive victories over Colorado, Arizona and Cal to reach .500 in conference play.

But things then took an ugly turn as losses to Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon now has the Utes at 6-9 in conference play. The losses were particularly brutal as the Utah's comeback attempt came up short against Stanford, they were outclassed by the Beavers and a questionable call doomed them against the Ducks.

The loss to Oregon is going to be particularly difficult to get over as it was a game the Utes felt as if they had a great opportunity to pull out the win late.

Trailing 65-64 with 10 seconds left, freshman guard Pelle Larsson had the ball and drove to the hoop where he was cut off. He then pivoted and kicked the ball out to junior forward Timmy Allen.

The errant pass eluded Allen and bounced out towards midcourt, where he ran it down and began to dribble towards the hoop with five seconds left. But official Deldre Carr had other ideas, blowing his whistle and calling a double-dribble on Allen — a call that was met with shock, anger and disgust.

Despite protests from players and Krystkowiak, the call held true and Oregon was able to run out the clock the rest of the way. 

“Wow, all I can say is wow,” Krystkowiak said postgame against Oregon. “You know what a team goes through and we scrapped and we played our butts off and it wasn’t error free by any means, and we make plenty of mistakes. Oregon made plenty of mistakes. Dana (Altman) and I probably made plenty of mistakes. But I think at the end of the day, we let the players determine a game and so to make up a call at the end, that didn’t even happen is mind boggling." 

Feb 20, 2021; Eugene, Oregon, USA; Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak reacts to a call during the second half against the Oregon Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena.

Utah will try to get over the game against the Ducks when it faces the Bruins on Thursday, winners of three in a row and looking to close in on USC for Pac-12 supremacy.

Leading the way for the Utes is Timmy Allen, who if not for Utah's poor record, would be talked about much more in the Pac-12 player of the year discussion. 

He's averaging 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game on the season, but has been particularly dominant over the past 10 games. All of his numbers are up over that span, averaging 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game.

Allen has also taken over the role as 'point-forward' the past two weeks as starting point guard Rylan Jones has been out with a shoulder injury. It's unknown when he will return, which means a lot of the pressure has fallen on Allen to take control of the offense as not only its primary option but also its playmaker.

Dec 31, 2020; Los Angeles, California, CA; Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (1) controls the ball against UCLA Bruins guard Tyger Campbell (10) during the second half at Pauley Pavilion.

Big man Branden Carlson has been as equally impressive for the Utes over his past 10 games, really coming into his own on both ends of the court. He's averaging 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks over that span, but has scored in double figures in five straight games while posting two double-doubles over that span.

Jan 9, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes center Branden Carlson (35) dunks the ball in the second half against the Oregon Ducks at Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Alfonso Plummer is the only other Ute averaging double figures on the season, posting 13.0 points per game. He's been inconsistent the past four games, scoring 17 and 14 points in games against Oregon and Stanford while being held to four and nine points against the Beavers and Golden Bears.

Lightning in a bottle when it comes to shooting the three ball and scoring, Utah will need a much more consistent version of Plummer if they want any chance against the Bruins or Trojans. He dropped 22 points in the first meeting against UCLA before being held to just 6 points two days later against USC.

Dec 31, 2020; Los Angeles, California, CA; Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) controls the ball against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at Pauley Pavilion.

The good news for Utah is that there is the potential opportunity they get two starters back against UCLA. While Jones is still deemed a long shot as the Utes are in no hurry to rush him back from injury, Mikael Jantunen could be available.

He missed the past three games after heading overseas to play for his native Finland in the 2022 EuroBasket qualifiers. After starting and recording 11 points and six rebounds in Finland's victory, he returned to Salt Lake City this past Saturday and could see the court as soon as Thursday.

Jantunen is averaging 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds — mediocre numbers — but he's considered the glue guy on the team. His contributions go far beyond the score sheet, so getting him back completely changes the dynamic of the squad.

Jan 9, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes forward Mikael Jantunen (20) reacts with forward Timmy Allen (1) after a basket in the final seconds of the first half against the Oregon Ducks at Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Standing in Utah's way of breaking the losing streak are the Bruins, one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12.

Five different players are averaging double-figures on the season, led by guard Johnny Juzang's 13.8 points per game. He's been nearly unstoppable the past seven games by averaging 17.9 points, including three games of 25 points or more.

Tyger Campbell is the instigator for the Bruins, averaging 11.1 points and 5.7 assists per game. But it's his defensive tone that sets the standard for UCLA, which often ignites the offense on the other end.

Chris Smith and Jaime Jaquez Jr. rank second and third in scoring at 12.6 and 12.0 points per game respectively. 

Dec 31, 2020; Los Angeles, California, CA; UCLA Bruins guard Johnny Juzang (3) and forward Jalen Hill (24) celebrate the 72-70 victory against the Utah Utes at Pauley Pavilion.

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