Looking at the Pac-12 Conference standings, UCLA is the only team which is still undefeated in conference action, but that’s only because tonight’s opponent, the Utah Runnin’ Utes, fell to Oregon on Saturday, 70-60. The Utes’ best win of the season came against then-#4 Arizona when they handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season, 81-66.
On the flip side, the Utes lost a home game against to TCU, the only ranked team they’ve played. They’ve also lost games to Sam Houston, Mississippi State, and BYU. So, the big question in tonight’s game is: Which Utah team will show up to Pauley? Will it be the team that knocked off Arizona or the one which lost to Sam Houston?
UCLA has questions of their own. Namely, can the Bruins avoid blowing another lead against an opponent which has shown flashes of brilliance? Will UCLA put together a complete game like the first half of last week’s win over Southern Cal or will they actually blow a big lead at home and lose to an unranked opponent?
But one thing is for sure.
The Utes are a better team than they were last season. In head coach Craig Smith’s first year with Utah, he led them to an 11-20 record. With 12 wins already this season, the Utes have already passed last year’s win total for the season. They’ve just been a little inconsistent.
The Utes have also already won more conference games than they did all of last season. A year ago, they managed just four wins against Pac-12 opponents. This season, they already have five. So, look for tonight’s game to be a tougher one than 63-58 Bruin victory.
Let’s look at the Runnin’ Utes’ starting five.
Utah will play a lineup with three guards plus a center and a forward.
The Utes are anchored by senior center Branden Carlson. Branden is one of two Carlsons in the Utes’ starting lineup, but they are not siblings. Branden leads the Utes with an average of 15.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 38 blocks. He also has the highest three-point percentage on the team of anyone who has more than one three-point attempt. Thankfully, he has only taken 53 attempts, which means he’s only third on the team in three-pointers made with 21. His 54% shooting percentage is second on the team, but he has the most field goal attempts and field goals made, which explains why he leads the team in scoring. To win tonight, the Bruins will need to find a way to minimize his production.
The other starting Carlson is junior forward Ben Carlson. If Branden is the team’s leader, Ben is the opposite. He averages just 4.4 ppg. He’s fourth on the team in rebounds with an average of just 4.9 per game and he doesn’t generate a whole lot of defense either. In fact, if the Bruins choose to double team Branden, then Ben is probably the guy to leave open.
Utah will look to get some good offensive production out of their guards. Junior Gabe Madsen is second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.6 ppg and he is tied for the team lead in steals with 17. He is also the Ute most likely to shoot the three where his 114 attempts is more than the next two guys put together. It’s also why having a 38.6% three-point percentage makes him a guy that UCLA will have to play tight. He has made more threes than any other player on the Utes.
Fifth-year guard Marco Anthony followed Craig Smith from Utah State to Utah. Anthony is third on the team in scoring with an average of 11.5 ppg and his 56.4% shooting percentage is the highest shooting percentage on the team for anyone with more than 39 field goal attempts. Despite that, he is not a three-point threat at all, having made the only attempt he’s taken all season. He is second on the team in rebounds with an average of 7.1 per game.
The final Utah guard also followed Smith from Utah State. That’s junior Rollie Worster, who’s averaging 8.3 ppg this season. More than anything, though, Worster is the guy who provides the grease. He leads Utah in assists with 86 for the season, which is more than double the next two guys combined. He’s also third on the team in rebounds with an average of 5.5 per game, with all but four coming on the defensive end of the court. Worster and Anthony are tied for third on the team in steals with 10 each.
Sophomore Lazar Stefanovic is Utah’s most productive bench player. The guard from Serbia is the only non-starter averaging in double figures with 10.4 ppg. Stefanovic is also tied with Madsen for the team lead in steals.
Given the experience that these Runnin’ Utes have, there’s no doubt in my mind that tonight will be one of the Bruins’ toughest tests so far this season.
Tonight’s game will be on Pac-12 Networks with Ted Robinson and national treasure Bill Walton calling the game. Personally, I’m not sure why you would want to turn down the volume and not listen to Big Red, but if you do, you can listen to Josh Lewin and Tracy Murray. Just be sure to right-click on it so that you can open up another tab and have it going while you chat in the comments below. Listen to today’s game online.
This is your UCLA men’s basketball vs. Utah Utes game thread. Here’s how to watch tonight’s game:
Opponent: Utah Utes (12-5, 5-1)
Series Record: UCLA leads, 15-10
When: 8:00 pm PT, Thursday, January 12, 2023
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Pac-12 Networks National, Los Angeles, and Mountain with Ted Robinson and Bill Walton
Live Stream: Pac-12.com and the Pac-12 Now app
Local Radio: AM 570 with Josh Lewin and Tracy Murray
Satellite Radio: SiriusXM Ch. 83 (UCLA Call)
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
Thanks again for supporting The Mighty Bruin. Your paid subscriptions make this site possible. Questions, comments, story ideas, angry missives and more can be sent to @TheMightyBruin on Twitter.