Utah is officially rolling, and whenever you can beat UCLA it’s a good night. The Utes won their 5th straight game over UCLA 84-78, and are now firmly in the NCAA tournament conversation. Yeah, they’re a bubble team, but I think the resume is starting to look pretty solid and there’s a good argument for the Utes, but they do need to finish the season with two more wins. Utah currently is sitting in the top four of the league, and should they finish out the season with two more wins they’ll clinch a first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament in a couple of weeks.
After a pretty poor effort against UCLA down in LA, Utah responded well tonight, even if they started a little slow. The Utes turned a six point deficit in a 14 point lead in the early stages of the second half, and were playing loose, beautiful basketball. When they play connected, it’s a thing of beauty. Utah got a big night from David Collette, who had 21 points on 9 of 9 shooting, and was a monster down low for the Utes. Man, he’s caught fire over the past month and has been so consistent for Utah, and it’s what the team has needed. Utah has continued to get awesome effort from Justin Bibbins, who had 17 points and 10 assists on the night, and continues to look like an all Pac-12 guard. He’s the backbone of this team, and I hate that we only got him for a season. Without Sedrick Barefield, who is out with an injury, it’s even more important for Bibbins to be reliable. Tyler Rawson’s 12 points were big too, but the big name to finish the Bruins tonight was Parker Van Dyke. Utah did stall a bit there at the end of the game, and Holiday for UCLA went on a bit of tear, and pulled the game to within a point. In stepped Van Dyke, who bailed out the Utes with two giant, deep threes that gave Utah the breathing room they needed over UCLA and ended up with 18 points. Those are the kind of shots the Barefield has hit, and it’s great to see him step up too in Sedrick’s absence. One of the threes he just chucked up there and once it went it you could feel UCLA’s back break.
All-in-all, a big win, and one Utah needed, because they’re battling the Bruins in the conference standings, and Joe Lunardi has UCLA as a “first four out” team while Utah is a “next four out” team. Hopefully a win will help flip flop the two. Next up for the Utes is a mattinee against USC on Saturday afternoon.