So is Utah the team it thought it was? One of the best-shooting and solid-defending squads in the country that is capable of making a late run (albeit now more unlikely than ever) and making it to the NCAA Tournament? Against one of the lesser teams in the league, the Utes have a lot to prove to themselves — and everyone else, too.
Time, Place and [radio waves in] Space • The Utes try to split the road trip with a game at Maples Pavilion at 2:30 p.m. MST. FS1 will televise, and ESPN 700 AM will broadcast Bill and Jimmy for ya.
The Line • As of Friday afternoon, the Utes are favored by 3.5 points according to Vegas Insider. Utah is 11-8-1 against the spread this year, going 6-2 in their last eight contests.
Pregame Quotable • Larry Krystkowiak said Lorenzo Bonam’s late heroics were welcome, but he just wished they had begun earlier against Cal: "I saw a burst of speed out of him in second overtime with the ball in his hands that that I didn’t see for 50 minutes. We showed him in film. This is in there. There doesn’t need to be five seconds on the shot clock in order for you to turn that burst on. We needed somebody to make plays."
Opposing coach • Stanford’s profile and prestige might have made it a little surprising when the Cardinal reached to Alabama-Birmingham to retrieve the successor to Johnny Dawkins. But Jerod Haase, the only new coach in the Pac-12 this year, made his mark as a hustle player at Kansas in the mid-90s before ascending up the coaching ladder under the wing of Roy Williams. Haase is 91-64 overall, taking UAB to the NCAA Tournament once in his four years, but winning 26 games in his last season there. He has yet to make a significant imprint on Stanford, but the expectations are fairly high — Stanford’s AD said he expected Haase to win Pac-12 championships and make the program a "regular participant" in the NCAA Tournament.
Telling Stat • Scoring has been tough for the Cardinal this year: In four of their 10 conference games, they’ve been held under 60 points.
Cardinal Roster Overview • It has been the case in the last few games, and is again: The Utes have to watch out for a couple of forwards. Junior Reid Travis hasn’t played Utah all that much in his career, but he’s had some big games this season with 10 outings of 17 points or more. Lately, he’s struggled again to stay on the court — a right shoulder problem has caused him to miss four games in conference play. But when he’s able to play, he’s often effective as a low post scorer. His counterpart is 6-foot-9 junior Michael Humphrey, who also plays inside and helps Stanford crash the boards. Dorien Pickens is the second-leading scorer to Travis (12.2 ppg) as a slasher and occasional deep shooter from the wing, while Robert Cartwright has been the team’s main distributor (3.3 apg). Marcus Sheffield is probably someone Utah fans in particular want to keep an eye on: The 6-foot-5 wing had 30 combined points on 11 for 18 shooting in two games against the Utes last year. Offensively, Stanford is the worst-shooting team (42.8 percent) in the league and doesn’t have an appreciable 3-point threat (31.8 percent). They’ve been more successful on defense (43.2 percent, No. 9 in Pac-12), but still have let opponents such as Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and most recently Colorado run over them.
Behind Enemy Lines • The San Francisco Chronicle covers Stanford’s latest slump against a Colorado team that had only won one conference game prior to meeting the Cardinal.
Something's Gotta Give • Stanford wants to get to the line, and Utah usually is good at keeping opponents off. Both teams are in the top 100 of free-throws-attempted to field-goals-attempted ratio — Stanford on offense, Utah on defense. The Cardinal aren’t particularly special making their shots, hitting 69 percent, but Utah would like to avoid foul trouble and close off one of the few avenues in which Stanford can compete offensively.
Stanford's Edge • The Cardinal could be able to take advantage of Utah’s recent spate of turnovers. For all of Stanford’s flaws, giving up the ball is not a glaring one. The team carries a plus-1.3 margin this season, and defensively they force a lot of cough-ups from their opponents. With three straight games of 13 or more turnovers, Utah is on the hunt for a turnaround in that statistic. This game will be challenging to win the turnover battle in that regard.
Utah's Edge • It looks like the Utes will be able to run a lot of zone on Saturday afternoon and here’s why: Stanford can’t hit 3-pointers. There’s only been four times all season when the Cardinal has managed to hit better than 33.3 percent from deep. Grant Verhoeven and Christian Sanders are the only players who average better than 40 percent on long-range shots — they combine for 7.5 ppg. If Utah wants to pack in the paint against Travis, Humphrey, Pickens and Sheffield and challenge the Cardinal to beat them from outside, it would be surprising for Stanford to be able to do it.
Injury Watch • Travis has missed time recently with a right shoulder injury, but has played in the last two games. All the Utes traveled for this trip. One thing might be relevant: David Collette hit the deck hard against Cal after he was fouled and he looked shaken up. The junior has been dealing with a head injury for the last month — while there was no indication that Collette will miss further games, it’s something that can’t be far from the minds of Utah fans.
Watch Out For • How do Utah’s guards rebound? Aside from Bonam, who had 15 points, it was a devastating game for backcourt players. They had trouble driving in for easy shots, and they didn’t make all that many from deep, either. Devon Daniels was 0 for 5. JoJo Zamora was 1 for 3. Parker Van Dyke had seven points in the first half, but didn’t score again. Sedrick Barefield had 8 points off the bench, but fouled out. Utah’s backcourt needs to be better in the second game of the road swing, particularly against a Stanford team that isn’t known for great guard play.