Men’s basketball returns to Westwood for two home games following postponements
Senior guard Chris Smith leads UCLA men’s basketball in steals and rebounds. The Bruins will end 2020 and begin 2021 with games against Pac-12 opponents. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)
Thursday, 4 p.m.
Saturday, 5 p.m.
By Jack Perez
Dec. 31, 2020 11:45 a.m.
The Bruins are coming home and have the chance to begin Pac-12 play 3-0.
UCLA men’s basketball (5-2, 1-0 Pac-12) returns to Westwood for games against Utah (4-1, 1-0) and Colorado (6-2, 0-1) Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
After playing four games in eight days early in December, the Bruins will be playing their second game since Dec. 12 when they face off against the Utes after UCLA games against Oregon and Long Beach State were postponed.
Senior guard Chris Smith – currently second on the team in points and first in rebounds and steals – said his team immediately switched the focus to the next game once the Oregon game was called off.
“Since Oregon didn’t follow through, we’ve been getting ready for Utah,” Smith said. “I mean, I know I’m super excited to play and I can speak for all the guys as well and they’re just as excited, so I’ve been looking (forward) to it for a long time, ever since we had to walk off the Oregon court.”
Sophomore guard/forward and current leading scorer Jaime Jaquez Jr. said he agreed with his teammate’s sentiment, noting that the Bruins came into the campaign with the knowledge that not every matchup would be played out.
“With this virus going around, it was just unrealistic to think that we’re going to play every game,” Jaquez said. “We prepared like we’re going to play every single game, but at the very last minute, they’re going to tell us that we can’t play. At this point, it’s nothing new, it’s been happening around the country, things like that have been happening, so we just kind of focus on the task ahead of us.”
At the moment, UCLA and Utah are still expected to play. Although the Bruins took three days off over Christmas to allow players to return home if they were able to, coach Mick Cronin has been able to have his sights set on the Utes since returning from Eugene.
Utah is led by forward Timmy Allen and guard Alfonso Plummer – both of whom average around 15 points per game and are the only two to have more than 40 field goal attempts this season for the Utes.
While those two may trouble the Bruins, Cronin said there was another aspect of the Utes’ game that impresses him.
“They have an unbelievable stat on their sheet – their turnover margin,” Cronin said. “They’re top five in the country, plus eight or nine in turnovers. It’s mind-boggling. Now it’s obviously a small sample size of games. But still, I think they only have 40 something or opponents have 90 something. It’s really amazing.”
Utah currently sports a +45 turnover margin through four games, compared to UCLA’s +15. Although the Utes have only forced one more than the Bruins, they have done so in two fewer games.
UCLA will welcome Colorado two days later, with the Boulder school coming off a game against USC. The Bruins swept the Buffaloes last season, with each win coming by a single-digit margin.
Cronin said the coaching staff has some worries following two quick games preceded by a long layoff, but he believes that the rest will benefit the Bruins further down the road.
“Hopefully, it’ll help us later on that we had six out of nine off,” Cronin said. “But yeah, (we’re) concerned about timing, concerned about conditioning, no question about it.”
Tip-off against Utah will start at 4 p.m.