Last night in the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Utah took the best shot from any team in the Pac-12 to enter the building, but still pulled out a 16-point win, 75-59. Stanford was prepared, had a solid game plan, played physically with Utah's bigs (and got away with a lot of fouls), and had the conference's leading scorer. Utah, on the other hand, simply had more talent and a lot more depth than the Cardinal.
The experience will be a good one for the Utes come tournament time, as the play typically gets more physical, fewer fouls are called, and the coaching and talent gets better and better with each round. It was a good game to make Utah battle tested and battle hardened. A tournament game won't take them by surprise, especially if they meet a Big 10 team, a conference with the reputation of being a more physical league.
Solid Game Plan:
Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins was very well aware of the potential for the game to get out of hand. He called several quick timeouts, including one within the opening minute and a half of the second half. Being outgunned and outmanned by the Utes, Dawkins managed the game better than any conference coach who has entered the Jon M. Huntsman Center this season. Their game plan was obvious, stick to Taylor and play physically with Poeltl. Pac-12 leading scorer Chasson Randle may have sacrificed his usual offensive game to keep up with the constantly running Taylor, but he held the junior guard to 0-4 from the three-point line. Poeltl has struggled all season with physical teams, most recently at Arizona, and he had a difficult time staying in the game with Stanford attacking him on both ends. Dawkins plan almost worked... for the first 5:40 of the first half, anyway. In fact, it might have worked except for the bench depth of senior center Dallin Bachynski and freshman forward Brekkott Chapman. Last season, Dawkins plan would have worked, but this isn't last year's Utes. Utah's bench strength and overall talent was too much for the wafer thin Cardinal lineup.
No-Trade Clause for Bachynski:
Bachynski was the one player (outside of Wooden Award finalist Delon Wright) in this game who didn't take a half off. Chapman was hot in the first half. Loveridge heated up in the second half. The Big Canadian center hit jump shots, buzzer-beaters, and crashed the boards to help Utah maintain its inside dominance, even with starting center Jakob Poeltl on the bench for much of the game with foul trouble. Without Bachynski stepping up (Utah's bench outscored Stanford's bench 33-5), the Utes might have dropped that head-scratching game all fans have feared. His offensive rebound on Brandon Taylor's miss toward the end of the first half and floating buzzer-beater really gave the Utes momentum against a Stanford team that just wouldn't go away. To use the words of Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak, it's a good thing Bachynski didn't "demand a trade before the trade deadline."
The John R. Wooden Award watch list was cut to 20 names on Tuesday. Among them were Utah star guard Delon Wright and Stanford shooting guard Chasson Randle, making Thursday's face-off a Wooden Award elimination game. Both guards played 35 or more minutes. Both players had only three fouls and were not limited by foul trouble.
Utah held the Pac-12's leading scorer, Randle, to just 10 points on 18 percent shooting (2-of-11 from the field, 0-of-4 from behind the three-point arc). Randle also chipped in three rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.
Wright, on the other hand, scored 15 points on 50 percent shooting (5-of-10 overall, 1-of-3 from deep), collected five rebounds, swiped four steals, and had an assist and a block.
Statistically, the edge goes to the stat-stuffer Wright. But when you factor in their contribution to their team, there's no comparison. Wright was consistent in both halves and on both ends of the floor, leading his team to the win. Randle was mostly ineffective in the loss and didn't get his game going until the Cardinal made a late push in the final 10 minutes. One Wooden candidate down, one more to go on February 28. Win that contest, and Wright might be looking at Pac-12 Player of the Year, which would be the first step for a Wooden Award hopeful.
Just Win, Baby:
Brandon Taylor has been one of the hottest players in the Pac-12 this season, and was clearly a focus for the Stanford Cardinal game plan. Randle frustrated Taylor into an off-shooting night, but Taylor just finds ways to make himself invaluable to the No. 11 Runnin' Utes. With a goose egg on the stat sheet for shooting, Taylor instead opted to pass, racking up eight assists to just one turnover. Taylor is third in the Pac-12 in assist to turnover ratio at 2.77, just behind T.J. McConnell of Arizona (1) and his own teammate Wright (2). (No other team has more than one player in the Top 13.)
If the season were to end today, freshman center Jakob Poeltl, playing in his first year of real, American basketball, stands second on Utah's all-time single season field goal percentage list. Poeltl, who leads the Pac-12 in the category, is shooting 66.7 percent from the field (which probably means he needs a lot more touches during a game) and is slotted behind Chris "Big Red" Jackson (71.2 percent) and just ahead of Australia center Luke Nevill (63.7 percent).
Leaders of the Pac:
- Utah leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (56.2), nearly a full point per game ahead of surprising Oregon State (57.1).
- Utah's +18.0 scoring margin also leads the conference, ahead of second place Arizona (+15.8).
- Utah leads the Conference of Champions in field goal percentage (50 percent), also ahead of second place Arizona (49.1 percent).
- The No. 11 Utes are also tops in the conference in assist to turnover ration (1.31).