The Runnin' Utes take to the road on Thursday when they travel to Oregon for a two game road stint against the Beavers and Ducks. First up is the Beavers on Thursday night at Gill Colesium.
The two teams have gone in opposite directions since their last meeting. Utah kicked off their current five game winning streak against the Beavers back on January 17th. The current win streak matches Utah's longest win streak in Pac-12 play and they will get an opportunity to extend the streak on Thursday with a win. The Beavers meanwhile have been in a nose dive, losing five of their last six and six of their last eight games. Most recently the Beavers are coming off back to back losses against the Arizona schools this past weekend.
After a bumpy start to conference play, Larry Krystkowiak's squad is really rounding into form heading into the second half of the Pac-12 slate. The team's 96 points against Stanford last week were the most points Utah has scored in a conference game since joining the Pac-12. Defensively Utah has imporved considerably since the beginning of the season as well, currently leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense, limiting opponents to 67.7 points per game.
Jakob Peoltl will look to continue his impressive season for Utah. Poeltl has now scored over 20 points in three consecutive games, making him the first Utah player to do so since joing the Pac-12 and first Ute since Luke Nevill in the Mountain West conference days. Poeltl has also been on fire from the free throw line, a point of weakness for him last season. Poeltl is now shooting 69% from the charity stripe on the seaso, but is 33 of 45 (73%) since last time the Beavers and Utes played.
Another reason for Utah's resurgence total offensive production. During Utah's 11-2 start against non-conference opponents, the Utes averaged 84.8 points per game. In the first five games of Pac-12 play where Utah went 2-3, Utah averaged only 60 points per game. In the the last four games, all wins, the Utes have increased their scoring up to non-conference levels, averaging 85.3 points per game.
Kyle Kuzma is one player who has stepped up his game recently. Kuzma has teamed up with Poeltl down the stretch to give Utah a lethal 1-2 punch in the post. Kuzma has scored in double digits now over the past three games including a double-double against Washington.
Oregon State will have Jarmal Reid back for the first time since he tripped a ref at the Huntsman Center. Reid served a four game suspension which coincidently makes him eligble to play for the first time since the incident in this rematch. Reid probably won't factor into the game two much, as he averages only 15.7 minutes a game. Senior forward Daniel Gomis looks like he may not play for Oregon State against Utah due to pain in his leg.
Gomis' injury combined with Reid having not played for the past four games will limit the depth for Oregon State's front court. The Beavers have freshman Drew Eubanks, Gligorije Rakocevic and Cheikh N'Diaye available in the post. Eubanks is the best of the bunch averaging 6.7 points per game, but none of them are a good matchup against Poeltl.
Gary Payton II and Tres Tinkle remain the Beavers most dangerous players. Payton II didn't have one of his best games against Utah last time they met however and he struggled last weekend against the Arizona schools scroing 11 points total between both games. Payton plays better at home however, so the return to Gill Colesium should give him a boost.
Utah needs to take care of business Thursday in Corvallis before the big test against Oregon comes on Sunday. It will be important for Utah to come out with energy at put the Beavers behind the eight ball early. It is crucial for Utah to get at least a split on this road trip to help with their tournament seeding.
Utah at Oregon State will be televised on ESPN2 at 9pm MT on Thursday.