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Utah Basketball Ready To Jump Back Into Pac-12 Play After Long 12-Day Layoff

(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – When Utah basketball takes the floor on Thursday, it will have been 12-day layoff in between games.

Utah basketball had the long layoff because their last game against Arizona State on Tuesday, December 22 postponed due to COVID-19 related issues within the Runnin’ Utes program. They will look to shake off the rust from the layoff and will jump back into Pac-12 play on Thursday, December 31 with a road contest against UCLA. Then they will take on the USC Trojans in Los Angeles, California on Saturday, January 2.

The last game that Utah played was December 18 in a 79-41 win over Idaho at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Utah basketball is 4-1 on the season and 1-0 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Washington (season opener), Idaho State, Utah Valley and Idaho. Their lone loss came on the road against BYU on December 12.

“There’s a concern for I think a lot of us as you head into USC, they’ve had some shutdown too, it doesn’t feel like it for me like we’ve had that much time off,” head coach Larry Kyrstkowiak told the media on Tuesday. “We needed to take some time off at Christmas and our guys got some individual workouts. Then we’ve had a good run of practices since the 26th of December with some stuff mixed in. We’re not going to make any excuses. We know that a lot of teams have similar circumstances. So it’s going to be about trying to get ourselves as prepared as possible and bring a little bit of dog to the fight, I think that might be one of the most important parts of the upcoming weekend.”

Utah Basketball’s Road Woes

Leading up to the 2020-21 season, Utah has struggled on the road. Last season, they won their season opener at Nevada before losing their next nine games to Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford and California. That doesn’t count neutral site games where Utah was 3-4 last season. This only counts true road games.

Counting the loss to BYU in Provo this season, the Utes have lost 10 straight road games. When Larry Krystkowiak was asked about being on the road during a pandemic, it’s not as difficult since fans are not allowed to attend games.

“Well, I think that’s gonna be the case, probably for everybody,” Krystkowiak said. “We have a lot of good home courts in this conference that can create a lot of energy. It’s certainly worth a few baskets a game. It is a different environment for all of us, for coaches and players, you’re used to having a lot of fans, and without that, probably sneaks a little bit away from the home team. I don’t know what it is, but it certainly is not a factor to go on the road and have to overcome some of the arenas that we play in and some of the loudness and the energy, that’s a big fun part of the game for the home team typically.”

Utah Basketball vs. UCLA

The Bruins are 5-2 overall and 1-0 in Pac-12 play. They were picked to win the conference in the preseason poll. UCLA is going through a similar layoff with their last game played on December 19 against Ohio State in Cleveland. Their game against Oregon on December 23 was postponed due to COVID-19. It will have been 11-days between games for UCLA when they face the Utes.

The Bruins have knocked off Pepperdine (in 3 OT), Seattle, California, San Diego and Marquette. They lost to San Diego State and Ohio State. UCLA has had two games canceled or postponed (Long Beach State and Oregon).

Jaime Jaquez Jr. is the Bruins’ leading scorer this season, averaging 13.7 points and 6 rebounds. Chris Smith is posting averages of 12.1 points, 6.7 rebounds per contest. Tyger Campbell is putting up 11.1 points and a Pac-12 best 6.9 assists.

Last season, Utah lost both matchups with UCLA beginning with a 73-57 defeat at Pauley Pavilion. Riley Battin led the Utes with 14 points. Timmy Allen added 13. Tyger Campbell dropped 22 points for the Bruins, Jaime Jaquez Jr. chipped in 18 points.

On the return trip to Salt Lake City, UCLA picked up a 69-58 win at the Huntsman Center. Alfonso Plummer scored 16 points off the bench, while Timmy Allen contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds. Jules Bernard had 16 points for UCLA and Campbell scored 13 points.

The Bruins are ranked No. 27 in the KenPom rankings.

Tip-off between the Utes and Bruins on New Year’s Eve will be at 5 p.m. MST and will be televised on FS1.

Utah Basketball vs. USC

The Trojans are 4-1 this season and have not played a Pac-12 game yet. They have wins over California Baptist (in OT), Montana, BYU and UC Irvine. Their lone loss came against UConn. Their last game was on December 8 and have had their games against Stanford and Oregon State postponed and contests versus San Francisco and Texas Southern canceled. USC will host Santa Clara at the Galen Center on Tuesday evening.

Their first Pac-12 game will be on Thursday against Colorado before hosting the Runnin’ Utes on Saturday.

Evan Mobley is USC’s leading scorer, averaging 17.6 points (4th in Pac-12), 9 rebounds (4th in Pac-12) and is shooting 61 percent from the field (4th in Pac-12). Drew Peterson is posting 12 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Tahj Eaddy is the third and final USC player to average double figures in scoring with 11 points per contest. Isaiah Mobley is just under double figures, posting 9.4 points per game and a league-best 9.2 rebounds per game.

The Utes split the two regular season meetings with USC last season. The Trojans won their game at home last season, 56-52. Timmy Allen led Utah with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Nick Rakocevic had 16 for USC. In February, Utah beat USC 79-65 at the Huntsman Center. Allen led all scorers with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Alfonso Plummer added 18 points off the bench. For the Trojans, Onyeka Okongwu had 18 points. He is now in the NBA.

USC is No. 32 in the KenPom rankings.

Game time between Utah and USC on Saturday, January 2 will be at 2 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.