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ASU Men’s Basketball: Sun Devils look to ride the momentum into matchup against Utah

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

With momentum on his team’s side following a big win over Colorado, Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devil squad will have to defend their home court again on Saturday, this time against the Utah Utes.

Utah comes into the game 10-4 overall, and 1-1 in Pac-12 play. They split their first Pac-12 games, beating Colorado before losing to Arizona on Thursday. Two of the Utes’ other three losses came to ranked opponents during the non-conference schedule.

Despite it’s short time in the Pac-12 as one of its two 2011 expansion teams, Utah has enjoyed success under head coach Larry Krystkowiak. They’ve lost nine games in each of the past two seasons and climbed to the Sweet 16 in 2014.

Utah brings a good balance to both sides of the floor. They rank sixth in offense and fourth in defense, meaning the Sun Devils will not be able to play a one-sided game if they want to secure a win.

Both sides have one statistical category heavily in their favor. On one hand, ASU has been able to bludgeon teams with high-volume perimeter scoring, as they lead the Pac-12 in three-point attempts and are fourth in percentage. Utah, meanwhile, is 11th in efficiency from behind the arc.

The Devils’ typical approach this season has been overwhelming teams by making some multiple of the treys their opponent makes, which gives them the obvious mathematical advantage.  That plan can work if the shots fall on Saturday, because ASU can hope to outplay the Utes on the perimeter.

In order to make that strategy work. the Sun Devils have to do one thing they’ve struggled to do: Avoid surrendering offensive boards. The Devils have to reckon with the fact that they’ll be at a disadvantage on the glass. ASU is last in rebounding margin in the conference at minus-2.8, while Utah is tops at plus-8.6.

Offensive rebounds will be critical, because the more chances Utah gets, the more likely they are to subdue ASU’s three-point attack with multiple second-chance opportunities. The three is a powerful weapon in the hands of a team who isn’t afraid to use it, but the Devils can’t cede that advantage by giving Utah more inside shots.

“We talked about stepping up and doing a better job rebounding,” Hurley said after the Colorado game. “I thought we lost track of that in the second half some. That would be the one criticism.” ASU lost the rebound battle 36-32 in that game and gave up 13 offensive boards.

Utah is also a contrast to the Sun Devils in terms of roster structure. The Utes have six players scoring in double figures, but only three have started in more than six games this season. Utah’s top eligible scorer, Kyle Kuzma (13.8 points per game) ranks 21st in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Torian Graham, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans all rank among the top 10, with Graham being second.

The top-heaviness of ASU’s roster has not been a huge problem, but Utah’s depth may be a challenge with such short rest. The Sun Devils will have little reprieve when Utah trots out a second unit that can score.

Both teams have an opening to stick to their identity in this game. Utah will have to rebound and take ASU out of their rhythm, whereas ASU has the chance to outshoot the Utes but has to maintain good energy in the other areas of the game to make it work.

“We’re gonna watch film, some of today’s game,” Hurley said of his team’s plan for the day off. “Whatever work we need for guys who might need a little more work, take care of our bodies and obviously get ready for Utah.”

The game tips off at 3 P.M. and can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.

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