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Jan 10, 2024 5:59 pm

Utah home from rough trip to face skidding UCLA

Host Utah and visiting UCLA look to end losing skids in Pac-12 play Thursday when the teams meet in Salt Lake City.

The reality is that one of these losing trends does not look like the other.

The Utes (11-4, 2-2 Pac-12) return home after dropping both games of last week’s Arizona road swing. The 70 points Utah scored in a 12-point loss last Thursday at Arizona State were the Utes’ fewest since falling 76-66 to then-No. 6 Houston on Nov. 17.

The 92 points it surrendered on Saturday at Arizona, in a 19-point loss, were the most Utah has allowed this season.

“We were not good defensively, quite frankly in any way, shape or form all weekend. I was just really, really disappointed in how we guarded,” Utes coach Craig Smith said.

Smith cited 3-point defense specifically, after Utah gave up 12 total 3-pointers on 28 attempts at Arizona State (42.9 percent) and 10 of 18 from deep (55.6 percent) at Arizona.

“That has to be better. Our transition defense was not what it needs to be,” Smith said.

The losses were outliers for a Utah defense that has held opponents to 35.7 percent of their scoring from outside. That yield ranks No. 33 in the nation per KenPom.com metrics.

UCLA (6-9, 1-3) stumbles into Utah on a three-game losing streak with some of the worst offensive production in college basketball.

The Bruins failed to reach 60 points in three consecutive losses: at Oregon Dec. 30 and last week at home vs. Stanford and Cal.

UCLA is shooting 29.0 percent from 3-point range – No. 327 nationally – and 45.4 percent inside the arc to rank No. 320.

Following the 66-57 loss to Cal on Saturday – UCLA’s fourth straight at home – coach Mick Cronin skipped his postgame news conference, saying he needed to speak with the team in-depth in the locker room.

“I didn’t think (a sense of urgency) was there,” Cronin said Tuesday, while apologizing for missing his media commitment Saturday. “That was alarming to me, so I felt I needed to address it immediately because your culture is the most important thing.”

Added Cronin: “We haven’t lost a game by double-figures all year. But (Saturday) was the first time that we got out-hustled, which is not acceptable.”

In spite of its overall struggles, UCLA has been solid on defense, holding opponents to 46 percent shooting on 2-point field-goal attempts.

“I’m commending their effort,” Cronin said. “I mean, how many teams this young defend?”

The Bruins will try to contain Utah big man Branden Carlson, who is averaging 17.6 points per game and shooting 53.7 percent inside the arc.

– Field Level Media

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