Utah basketball: Utes need Wright, Loveridge to lead the way
College basketball • Utah needs both stars to play well against Washington.
Published: March 12, 2014 10:05AM
Updated: March 11, 2014 11:32PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah’s Jordan Loveridge (21) drives on Ball State’s Franko House (15) as the University of Utah hosts Ball State, NCAA basketball Wednesday November 27, 2013 at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

Las Vegas • Delon Wright sat quietly in a chair on the floor of the Huntsman Center. Utah’s point guard calmly waited for Monday’s film session to commence, his face telling the tale of someone seemingly in deep thought.

About 50 feet away, Jordan Loveridge was all smiles, having an impromptu dunk contest with redshirt freshman Kyle Kuzma, simultaneously joking with his teammates. In this moment, they were two players with two different personas, a mere two days before Utah’s postseason run at the Pac-12 Tournament begins against Washington and C.J. Wilcox.

Not many can predict what the Utes will do this week. They’ve been good enough this year to think winning the whole thing isn’t out of the question. They’ve been so inconsistent on the road that nobody will be entirely shocked if they are eliminated by the Huskies.

This much, however, is for sure: Utah will only go as far as Wright and Loveridge take them. They are the Utes’ best players. They are the two leading scorers and rebounders. They haven’t always scored well or played well at the same times. This week, they will need to do so.

“It’s important that we set the tone,” Wright said. “We play best when we have a lot of guys who are scoring and getting involved. But me and Jordan have to lead and we have to play well.”

With Utah’s only path to the NCAA Tournament seeming to be a run to Saturday’s final, Wright and Loveridge will have to negotiate the Utes through what is a difficult road. A win over Washington would give No. 8 Utah a date with top-seeded Arizona, the regular-season champ and the only team in the Pac-12 that Larry Krystkowiak has yet to beat.

While Wright has played well of late, Loveridge has had his problems as a young player who experienced life at the top of opposing scouting reports for the first time in his career. The good news? Wright has averaged 23.5 points per game in two outings against the Huskies this season. UW has had issues dealing with his length and ability to get to the basket.

“We know how important they are to us,” Utes guard Brandon Taylor said. “We have to help them out as a team. We have to make life easier for them. We know that we’re going to have to make shots, and run good offense. We have to be balanced and we have to make good decisions out there.”

At their best, Wright and Loveridge work seamlessly with each other, with Wright getting to the basket and Loveridge making plays on the perimeter as well as in the paint. When that happens, the rest of Utah’s offense opens up. Taylor gets open looks from 3-point range. Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen have room to work inside.

But the margin of error is small for these Utes. If Wright’s driving lanes are bottled up, or if Loveridge’s offensive game is in the tank, Utah becomes an easy team to defend, and scoring becomes a chore.

That’s the biggest reason why the two need to be good at the same time. The Utes will need to be effective offensively if they want to keep playing this week. And having Wright and Loveridge playing well is the best way to assure that.

No pressure.

“They are a barometer for us,” Krystkowiak said. “We like what we’re doing offensively and we know that those two drive us on both ends. It’s going to be a team effort and we have to be good as a group in order to be successful.”

tjones@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tjonessltrib

Utah vs. Washington

P Pac-12 Tournament first round

At MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas

Tipoff • Wednesday, 1 p.m. MDT

TV • Pac-12 Network

Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah 20-10 (9-9); Washington 17-14 (9-9)

Series history • Washington leads 8-7

About the Huskies • C.J. Wilcox was named second team all Pac-12 on Monday. … Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss was named to the all-freshman team. … Washington beat Utah in Seattle this season. … Lorenzo Romar is the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12.

About the Utes • Delon Wright was named first team all-conference on Monday. … Utah claimed the No. 8 seed by virtue of tie-breaker. … The Utes have lost to the eventual champion in the last two years. … The last seven meetings between the two teams have all been decided by less than 10 points.