The Bruins need a win.
UCLA men’s basketball (12-11, 5-5 Pac-12) is on the cusp of its second three-game losing skid since the start of conference play and will face Utah (12-10, 6-4) at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. The Bruins are at risk of slipping below .500 in Pac-12 competition for the first time since the end of the 2015-2016 season.
The Bruins and Utes met twice last season with the home team winning each contest. Since Utah joined the conference in 2011, UCLA has won six of the 10 total meetings between the schools and has not lost to the Utes at Pauley Pavilion since February 2016.
However, Utah owns a 4-1 record away from home in Pac-12 play, including wins at Arizona and Arizona State. It is also tied for the second spot with Arizona State, Oregon State and USC.
UCLA, on the other hand, has dropped down into a tie for sixth place with Oregon following back-to-back losses to Washington and Colorado.
The Buffaloes torched the Bruins’ zone defense Wednesday night by knocking down 13 of their 24 attempts from beyond the arc, despite entering the game as the worst 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12.
Interim coach Murry Bartow, who defended his decision to remain in the zone defense Wednesday night despite Colorado’s success from the outside, did not comment on whether he would deploy the same defensive strategy Saturday.
Utah boasts the highest 3-point percentage in the conference at 37.6 and has five different players who have attempted at least 50 3s and who shoot better than 35 percent, while the Bruins have just one – redshirt junior guard Prince Ali.
Utah guard Sedrick Barefield leads the Pac-12 in 3-pointers made and attempted this season. He is hoisting up 7.5 shots from deep a night and is connecting on an average of three per contest.
Outside of its success from beyond the 3-point line, however, Utah’s offense ranks among the middle of the conference in scoring.
UCLA – which owns the second-ranked offense in the Pac-12 – also has a significant rebounding advantage over Utah. The Bruins are averaging nearly six more rebounds per game and will need to win that area of the game in order to keep the Utes from getting second-chance opportunities, given their array of outside shooters.
With a win, UCLA could put itself back in the mix for a top-four spot in the conference standings. A loss, though, would send them further toward the bottom of the Pac-12 with just a handful of games remaining in the regular season.
Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.