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Previewing UCLA

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What a week it’s been for the Runnin’ Utes so far. Sure, USC was slightly overrated due to a weak non-conference schedule, but a 22-point victory over a ranked opponent? Who saw that coming? That’s one hell of a way to start off what is easily the toughest weekend of the season thus far.

Unfortunately for Utah, the second game of the week won’t come nearly as easy when No. 4 UCLA comes to the Huntsman Center. Playing within the confines of the Huntsman Center and having momentum from the previous game will certainly help the Utes, but the Bruins are an offensive juggernaut that could rain threes in the desert.

Looking at the team as a whole, UCLA is one of the best scoring team’s in the nation with 93.4 points per game, good enough for the third-best mark in the country. Just ahead of them at 93.8 is Kentucky, a team that the Bruins handled IN LEXINGTON in early December. They are also first in the nation in assists per game (22.4) and three-point percentage (44.1), and second in overall field-goal percentage (53.5).

Clearly, this is a team that looks to get out and score the ball as efficiently and as often as possible. So what’s made this team one of the best in the NCAA? A healthy mix of highly-recruited freshman and seasoned veterans.

When looking up and down the UCLA roster, there are names on it that have seemingly been there since the Stone Age. Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh and Isaac Hamilton are all at least 30 years old by now, but somehow are still key contributors to this squad. Throw in five-star recruits Lonzo Ball, who could win up as a top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, and T.J. Leaf, and this becomes a formidable crew.

Everyone one of those players, along with Aaron Holiday, are averaging double-digit scoring figures. That makes six players who average at least 10 points per game, with Alford (17.9), Leaf (17.1) and Ball (14.5) leading the way.

To further illustrate how dynamic this offense is, let’s just chew on this for a second. We were all pretty stoked about the way Utah shot the ball on Thursday, right? I mean, 55.2 percent from the field, including 9-for-17 from behind the arc? I’ll take that any day.

In UCLA’s game on Thursday against Colorado, the Bruins made 19 three-pointers on 61.3 percent shooting. 19!!! And, of course, nine of them came from everyone’s favorite player (cough, cough) in Alford.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. The Runnin’ Utes looked better on Thursday than maybe most envisioned. Utah has a ton of momentum after that USC victory and as mentioned earlier, playing in the HC will certainly help the Utes’ chances to pull of a second upset in as many chances this week.

But, not going to lie, this will be tough. Defending the perimeter will be a tall task for the Utah defense, but as long as the Utes could keep this one close throughout, you never know what can happen.