The No. 13-ranked Runnin' Utes (21-5, 11-3) will Blackout the Jon M. Huntsman Center when hosting the Arizona State Sun Devils (15-12, 7-7) Thursday at 8:30 p.m. MT. In the last game between these two teams, Utah controlled the game from the opening tip in a 76-59 win on Jan. 15, which dropped ASU to 0-4 in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils are 7-3 since, with improved play from freshman point guard Tra Holder (double-digits seven times in the past 10 games) a big factor.
Also in the last meeting, ASU's bigs, specifically Eric Jacobsen, spent much of the game on the bench. Sun Devil forward Savon Goodman, in fact, fouled out. Given that this game will be played in the more Utes-friendly Huntsman Center, expect that story line to continue. That doesn't bode well for the Sun Devils, who don't have much bench strength down low. Centers Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski combined for 10 points and 12 rebounds on the night.
Last time out, Utah guard Delon Wright scored 21 points to lead the Utes charge. Forward Jordan Loveridge put up 14 points and eight rebounds, while point guard Brandon Taylor added 13 points of his own.
Sun Devils leading scorer Gerry Blakes was held to 10 points, 1.3 below his season average. Forward Savon Goodman (10.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) will also be a problem, as he's on a bit of a tear lately. In the past five games, Goodman is averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds, while shooting 31-of-46 (.674) from the field. There's no doubt he'll be the player Utah's game plan works to take out of the game, along with attacking Jacobsen (nine points, 6.4 rebounds).
But this game won't be about the Utes versus the Sun Devils. This game is about Utah versus themselves. Against Oregon, in only their third loss in conference play, Utah fell back into some bad habits, not playing with enough energy on the defensive side of the ball, playing a little loose with the ball in the first half, being too content to jack up late clock threes, and, most importantly, not crashing the boards or scrambling for loose balls. While Utah certainly can't look past the Devils, they have to re-establish dominance in this game in preparation for Saturday's clash with the Wildcats of Arizona.
One of the biggest keys to the game for Utah will be getting their bigs involved in the paint. Jakob Poeltl can't have just 4-5 attempted shots. He needs to receive the ball on most possessions, and, yes, play with strength when he does get it. If Poeltl gets 5-10 shots, Utah will not only win, they'll really set the table for the outside shooters (not to mention set the stage for the Arizona game). Utah's guards need to fall out of love with the three in this game and fall in love with entry passes. Poeltl, Bachynski, even Reyes, Kuzma, and Chapman need to get touches around the basket. Again, this is not about ASU, it's about Arizona. Utah has to tune up for Arizona by truly blacking out the Sun Devils.
Utah needs to dominate the glass on both ends of the court. Utah needs to play physically and determined when the ball comes off the rim to prepare for the Wildcats, who crushed the Utes on the boards. In the past four games, ASU is outrebounding its opponents 164-114, including 59-26 on offensive glass, resulting in second-chance scoring 63-30 in ASU's favor. Utah cannot allow that to happen in the Huntsman, or it bodes ill for Saturday's matchup.
The game, as noted above, will be the annual Blackout game, so break out your black Utes apparel, and try to get in your seats early, because empty seats don't scream "blackout" on TV. (If you don't have any black Utah logo apparel, you can purchase online here.) The game will be broadcast on FoxSports1 with Aaron Goldsmith and Sean Elliot on the call. ESPN700, of course, will have The Voice of the Utes, Bill Reilly, with former Utes point guard Jimmy Soto.