by Daniel Olsen
While not the same team that threatened Kentucky in the 1998 NCAA National Championship, the Utes still had impressive wins this season. With wins over top programs in the conference like USC and Arizona, the best word to describe the Utes would be unpredictable. While they beat these good teams, they also lost to some of the bottom teams like California and the same Washington team. It’s time to look at three keys to victory against those same Washington Huskies in the first round of the 2021 Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
• Defend the three-point shot
In the win over Washington in the first game of the season, Utah held the Huskies to 20 percent from downtown. They would win that game by 14 points. However, they allowed 50 percent from three to the Huskies in their second matchup and lost 83-79. In order to get the win, the Utes have to at least hold the Huskies to an acceptable 40 percent from deep. If they keep the defensive intensity up and find a way to limit open shots, they will keep Washington in their place.
• The star Ute needs to show up
Timmy Allen is leading the team with over 15 points-per-game this season. He hovered around his average in both games against the Huskies. However, he was more efficient in the win in the season opener. He made just under 43 percent of his shots from the field. He finished that game with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
In the loss in late January, Allen seemed good by looking at the stat line. However, his efficiency struggled. He made just 33 percent from the field and missed both three-pointers. He also had four turnovers which overshadowed his 10 assists. One positive was that he got to the free throw line a bit more as he made five of seven from the charity stripe.
In order for the Utes to be safe, their star has to show up. He needs to shoot efficiently and it wouldn’t hurt to get to the free throw line as well. It’s a team game and it might be a rough shooting night for some of the rotational players. If Allen scores 20 or more and takes care of the ball, the Utes will win this game. In games where Allen scores 20 or more, the Utes are just 2-4. However, Allen has averaged 5.25 turnovers per game in those losses. In the two wins, Allen only had three turnovers per game.
• Be a second half team
In reality, the Utes should be a 40 minute team. At times they haven’t been consistent season and it has shown up in their record. For a while in January they were winning every other game against good teams but that meant they were losing to bad teams every other time as well. In the win over the Huskies, the Utes built a large lead in the second half. They led by as much as 23 and won with a final score of 76-62.
In the loss, the Utes had a decent lead in the first half but a run by the Huskies in the second half resulted in an 83-79 loss. They seemed to be trying to avoid a loss rather than clamp down and secure the win. They allowed 45 points in the second half which is too much.
Basketball is a game of runs. That is why Utes should play every possession like it’s their last. If not, it very well could be their last game when the Washington runs do come. If the Utes could get a 20-point lead at some point in the game, they will get the win. The Utes are undefeated when leading by at least 20 points at some point in the game.
Prediction: Utah wins 77-73
The Utes are the better team and should win this game. If they follow these three keys, they will win. However, this will be a tough game. In the first round, these two teams are playing for their postseason lives. They will both bring their best game. A close win will bode well for the Utes’ confidence as they are just 2-3 in games decided by four points or less this season. That is fine. However, they will have to be 4-0 in Las Vegas this week if they want to make any postseason tournament. I think the Utes will build a 20 point lead and survive a late scare by the Huskies.
Featured image courtesy Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports