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College Football Pick
UCLA is at the top of the Pac-12 and has a legit chance at grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, similar to Oregon a year ago. But to get there, the Bruins need to win conference road games against teams like Utah. The Utes aren't a walkover, but they are far from an elite team, already with a loss to San Francisco, which hurts their overall perception. The Bruins did enough in non-conference play to be afforded a loss or two in the Pac-12, but a loss to Utah would change things.
UCLA is a completely different team from a year ago and they have two highly touted freshmen to thank for that in TJ Leaf (17.4 ppg, 9.1 reb) and Lonzo Ball (14.7 ppg, 5.6 reb, 8.0 apg). Throw in experienced players like Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday, who all had bigger roles a year ago and you get one of the better teams in the country. The Bruins have been able to run with the best of them, winning an up-and-down game at Kentucky, but they can also play the slower game as seen in a 74-67 win over Texas A&M. They have the athletes to play with tempo, but with Leaf and Ball, also the half-court offense to be effective when the game slows down.
UCLA has six guys averaging at least 10 points per game and that'd be rare if it wasn't for Utah, which is also doing that. Sure, a few of those players (David Collette, Sedrick Barefield) have only played half the season, but it's impressive nonetheless. Beating UCLA will require a team effort and that's exactly what the Utes can do with Kyle Kuzma (14.8 ppg, 9.4 reb) leading the charge. Kuzma missed a couple games due to injury, but returned for Pac-12 play and is rolling after dropping 26 points, 12 boards and four assists in the win last Saturday at Arizona State.
But where Utah will need to shine to have a chance at the upset is in the backcourt, especially on the offensive end. UCLA isn't the greatest at stopping opposing guards and Utah's Lorenzo Bonam, JoJo Zamora and Devon Daniels have all been big factors this season. As long as two of them can reach their season averages, that will be enough to keep the Utes around in this game because it's almost a given that Kuzma and Collette will get their points.
The problem for the Utes will be stopping the UCLA offense, which no one has really done this season. Oregon beat UCLA a couple weeks ago, but needed a buzzer-beating three to win 89-86. Utah already gave up 89 points to San Fran and 82 to ASU, so it's not like the Utes are a great defensive team.
But Utah does have a chance to win this game. They'll need to thrive off the home crowd and not let UCLA get on any big runs, while also slowing the pace down a bit. If they can keep the Bruins under 80 points (they average 92.8 on the season), that would be a good recipe for a Utah upset. The Utes have the players to do that, but stopping UCLA is not an easy task at the moment.
Our Pick UCLA by 22
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