Because of the imbalanced basketball schedule, every Pac-12 team faces two sets of opponents without a return date. Such was the case with Stanford and Utah, as the Utes hosted the Bay Area schools in the middle of February without having to worry about traveling to Northern California. Stanford gave the Utes a good scare in the Jon M. Huntsman Center before falling 75-59, but now, thanks to taking out Washington in the first round, the Cardinal get their rematch.
Stanford guard Chasson Randle put up 10 points, including the game-winning three-pointer. However, Utah's defense held Randle scoreless in the first half, frustrating him into bad shots and forced drives. He did finish the first matchup with 10 points, but on 2-of-11 shooting for the game, much of his damage coming from the free throw line (6-of-7).
Tonight, the matchup that matters most might be Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl against Stanford senior center Stefan Nastic. The Cardinal big put up 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting (62.5 percent) in their first round win over the lowly Huskies, adding five rebounds for good measure. Poeltl has struggled with upper classmen bigs in the stretch run, and he only has three points and one rebound in the last matchup with the Stanford bruiser. The first time out, Poeltl was limited by foul trouble, so backup Dallin Bachynski took over, scoring 13 points and hauling down six rebounds. Both bigs will be required to handle the surging Nastic, who averages 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Rebounding has been a problem for the Utes lately, and Stanford is one of the very few teams to go into the Huntsman Center and out-rebound Utah. In the February game, the Cardinal pulled down 33 boards to 32 for the Utes, which might not look too bad until you get to the offensive rebounds, 10-6 in favor of the visitors. That led Stanford to an 11-10 edge in second chance points.
Where Utah has the edge is in their second line, depth. In their only meeting of the season, Utah's bench out-scored the Stanford contingent 33-5, which was really the story of the game. Reserve forward Brekkott Chapman scored as many points off the bench as starter Jordan Loveridge (12) to go along with Bachynski's 13. Chapman was 2-of-2 from behind the three-point arc, accounting for 40 percent of Utah's made threes (5) for the game.
From downtown, the Utes shot a pedestrian 33 percent against the Cardinal defense. Starting guard Brandon Taylor, especially, struggled, going 0-fer (0-of-4) in the game, finishing with just five points. Taylor did, however, pass the ball well, getting his teammates involved to the tune of eight assists. But in this game, single elimination, Taylor can't disappear offensively. Utah needs its upperclassmen to look like upperclassmen.
Utah fans might want to buckle up in the first 10 minutes of this game, because Stanford raced out to a 10-4 lead. Utah was able to tie the game on the strength of free throws from Poeltl and Chapman, as well as two long balls from B-Easy. That's the kind of offensive outburst the Huntsman Center stirs up, but also the kind Utah doesn't get on the road.
Keys to the Game:
Get Nasty on Nastic:
Utah center Poeltl, especially, has to play better defense on the talented Cardinal senior Nastic. The Austrian 7-footer has to get his hands up and move his feet, essentially playing solid, fundamental defense without fouling. The longer Poeltl can stay in the game, the better for the Runnin' Utes. Poeltl is coming off an 18-point performance against Washington in a losing effort, and if Poeltl can put pressure on the Stanford big on the offensive end, drawing some fouls, Utah will be in very good shape. Both Poeltl and Bachynski have to take the ball at Nastic. They can't be passive and shoot hook shots and 18-footers. Utah's bigs, simply, have to get nasty with Nastic.
Take it B-Easy:
Stanford has no answer for Utah freshman forward Brekkott Chapman. He's long, strong, and a good outside shooter. This might be the game for Chapman to start and really put the pressure on Stanford from the opening tip. Starting forward Chris Reyes is a nice piece, but he's not a star-in-waiting as is Chapman. Utah needs to some firepower in the lineup, as well as some length and defense down low to help with Nastic. This game should B-Easy.
Brandon Taylor has been a perimeter weapon for Utah, but on the outside, in this league, he faces longer defenders. Usually, a guard faced with longer, taller defenders takes that man off the dribble and forces fouls or gets to the interior for layups or dishes for assists. Taylor, on the other hand, has seemed scared, yes, scared, to drive the ball into traffic. Rewatching the highlights from the Utes early season game against then No. 8 Wichita State, Taylor had a number of nice drives for kisses off the window and floaters over taller defenders. When Taylor takes the shackles off himself and makes bigger guards pay with his speed, he'll open up the three-point shot, because defenders will be afraid to guard him too tightly. When he becomes that complete offensive weapon, this Utah team may take another step forward.
It's the Wright Time:
Because of his team losing three of their last five games, Delon Wright not only lost the Wooden Award, but he ended up losing the Pac-12 Player of the Year to Joseph Young. Now is the time for Wright to put that junior college chip right back up on his shoulder and play with some aggression. Utah is 2-3 on the season when the senior guard scores 20 or more points, with the only victories coming against Alabama State and BYU. However, Utah is 14-4 when Wright has just five assists (his average is 5.3) or more, 77.8 percent winning percentage, slightly higher than the team's overall 76.7 percent. Below are some interesting notes:
- Wright had seven assists versus Wichita State, as the Utes knocked off the No. 8 Shockers.
- Wright had 10 against USC in a 34-point beatdown of the Trojans.
- Wright had five assists in a home win over UCLA and just two in a road loss in Los Angeles.
- Wright had six assists in each of the Utes wins over Colorado, both runaways.
- Wright had five assists in a road victory at Oregon State.
- Wright had nine assist versus Washington in a win in SLC, just two in a loss in Seattle.