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Utah Heads Out on Final Road Trip of Regular Season

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Utah will visit Pauley Pavilion on Thursday. Utah hasn't won at UCLA since before John Wooden's glory years.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Utah has one last road trip ahead of the during the 2015-2016 regular season, but it won't be an easy one. The Runnin' Utes head down to Southern California this week to take on a dangerous UCLA team and good USC team. First up on Thursday is the Steve Alford led UCLA Bruins at 14-11.

Utah is coming off impressive back to back wins against the Washington schools. The wins helped Utah regain some lost momentum after the Oregon road trip and has jumped them back into a tie for second place in the Pac-12. With 2 1/2 weeks left in the season, Utah sits only a game behind Arizona and Oregon in the Pac-12 standings.

This will be the first time this season the Utes and Bruins have faced off. At 14-11 and sitting ninth in conference, UCLA is having a disappointing season so far. The Bruins are only 5-7 in conference and have lost four of their last six games beating only bottom feeders Washington State and Arizona State. Make no mistake however, UCLA is not a team to be taken lightly, especially not by Utah.

UCLA holds an all time series lead on 8-6 and 4-2 since Utah joined the Pac-12. UCLA is also a tough out at home in Pauley Pavilion, where Utah has never won. In fact, to find a game where Utah won on UCLA's home floor you have to go back all the way to 1961 before the Bruins called Pauley Pavilion home. That was before John Wooden's legendary run of success as the Wizard of Westwood. Utah has had their chances in recent years, last year serving as a perfect example. Utah handled UCLA in Salt Lake earlier in the season before getting outplayed later in the year by a UCLA team looking for revenge. This year there is no early season game playing a factor but Utah still needs to be weary of the beleaguered Bruins.

UCLA does not have a talent problem, as five player average double figures in the scoring column. Most dangerous of them all is head coach Steve Alford's son, Bryce Alford, who can light up the scoreboard when he gets hot. Alford has scored over 20 points seven times this season and has scored double digits in all but four games. Joining Alford in the back court is Issac Hamilton who is also a force when he gets hot. Hamilton has scored in double digits in all but two early season games. Both guards average 16.4 points per game and are on the floor 30-plus minutes a game.

Down low against Poeltl, UCLA has size to match up. Senior 6-9 forward Tony Parker and sophomore 7-0 Thomas Welsh are both very talented players with the size to disrupt what Poeltl does down low. Both average double digits in scoring and are good rebounders, contributing with shot blocking skills as well. Young sophomore's Jonah Bolden and Gyorgy Goloman can step in and provide depth in the paint with out giving up any size at 6-10 and 6-11 respectively.

Utah has always struggled on the road in southern California. In the past Utah hasn't seemed to play with much energy against talented UCLA teams of recent year's. Utah has struggled to match their home performance on the road this season as wee, with a 3-5 record in true road games. Sitting only a game back in the Pac-12 race, (two from Oregon factoring in the tiebreaker) motivation and energy should not not be an issue with this team.

Utah is right in the thick of the Pac-12 race with two and a half weeks to go and this weekend presents  a great opportunity to for Utah to make a move. Two road wins this week and Utah can come back home with a potential conference deciding game looming against Arizona on February 27th. First thing is first though, have to take care of UCLA on Thursday night.

The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 8pm MT on Thursday.