(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Following a much-needed week off, the short-handed Sun Devils get back to work Thursday in Salt Lake City.
No. 22 Utah has owned ASU as of late sweeping the season series two years straight, and the general consensus is that nothing will change. The Sun Devils head to Salt Lake City with a depleted lineup, which will be missing a key role player in Andre Spight. The team announced Tuesday that the junior has left the program and intends to transfer. With this void, ASU will only have eight scholarship players available on the roster.
The Utes are winners of four straight after taking home two wins this past weekend in Los Angeles. In addition, standout sophomore Jakob Poeltl was named Pac-12 Player of the Week. The big man is having a great season averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per contest. The 7-footer creates even more issues for ASU because of its lack height. ASU senior center Eric Jacobsen will be in charge of guarding Poeltl but that will be a tough task with no help for the entirety of the game.
Utah senior Jordan Loveridge has eclipsed double-figures in five straight games, boosting his season scoring average to 15 points per game.
Despite being the underdog, the Sun Devils do have two wins this season against teams in the top-25. Junior forward Obinna Oleka has averaged nearly 13 points a game in the past 11 games and has also recorded three double doubles in that same span. His presence and energy will be welcomed in this game.
Keys to the Game
Utah has more size and strength. The only way to control this is to out work the Utes frontcourt. Poeltl has been dominant lately, but if ASU works to put a body on him and 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Kyle Kuzma, it could get in the young big men’s head. This will be a great test for both Jacobsen and junior forward Savon Goodman.
On the flip side, the Sun Devils will need to also out work Utah’s backcourt by using their speed led by sophomore guard Tra Holder and company.
Go for it
There will be a sold out crowd at the Huntsman Center but ASU can’t allow the crowd to get in its head. This should be easy enough after experiencing a visit to the ZonaZoo last week, but the Ute faithful will be loud.
Utah is ramping up for a NCAA Tournament run and could be over looking the Sun Devils. ASU has nothing to lose going it to this game. No one is expecting them to win-or even compete so they might as well go out guns blazing. An upset win could change their standing going into playoff season. Even competing will help with team morale for the remainder of the season.