GAME NOTES: Two of the four teams tied for fifth place in the Pac-12 Conference standings will collide on Saturday, as the Utah Runnin' Utes battle the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion.
The Utes came up with clutch plays down the stretch to defeat California, 63-59, at Haas Pavilion and notch their third win in a row on Wednesday. The decision gave coach Larry Krystkowiak his first 20-win season in his three years with the program. If Utah continues to build momentum, it will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Utes have won 15 of their 20 games by double digits, and rank seventh nationally in scoring margin (+13.7). Utah is also third-best among all Division I schools in shooting 49.6 percent from the floor.
After back-to-back road losses to Arizona State (76-64) and Arizona (79-66), the Cardinal retreated to Maples Pavilion to host Colorado on Wednesday, but the return home did not yield a different result. Stanford was limited to just 36.8 percent shooting from the floor and committed 12 turnovers as it was edged, 59-56, by the Buffaloes. The loss lowered the Cardinal to an 11-4 mark at home.
Stanford's current slide also pits it even with Utah, Oregon and California in the Pac-12 race. This will be the first meeting of the season and 26th in history between the Cardinal and Utes. Stanford won both of last year's battles by an average of 24.5 ppg. Utah has really struggled on the road in the rivalry, going 2-6 at Stanford and without a win at Maples Pavilion since 1971.
Sophomore guard Brandon Taylor came up huge down the stretch for the Utes versus California. The 5-foot-10 floor general made go-ahead free throws with just under two minutes remaining and drained a 3-pointer with 51.2 seconds left to help Utah hold off the Golden Bears. Taylor scored a team-high 13 points, sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge netted 12 points with six rebounds, but missed all five of his 3-point tries. Junior guard Delon Wright chipped in 11 points with a team-high nine rebounds and four assists. Wright is pacing the Pac-12 in steals per game and has scored in double figures in 17 consecutive outings. Wright (16.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Loveridge (15.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) account for 45 percent of Utah's points and 39 percent of its rebounds.
Junior guard Chasson Randle did his best to end Stanford's losing streak on Wednesday, pouring in a game-high 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the floor. Randle had a chance to force an extra session, but his last-second 3- point attempt landed off the mark. Senior forward Josh Huestis pulled down 13 boards but fell one point shy of his eighth double-double of the campaign. Senior forward Dwight Powell (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.5 apg) has at times been a dominant interior player for the Cardinal, but he has gone just 8-of-30 from the floor and committed 10 turnovers in his past three games. Junior guard Anthony Brown (13.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) will also be trying to bounce back after netting just six points and missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc versus Colorado.
Powell should have plenty of motivation to be more assertive considering the Cardinal are wrestling for position in the league tournament, and the contest will be his last at Stanford. Although Utah is just 2-9 in true road games, it has been much more competitive away from home than its record indicates.
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