Pac-12 action pits Utes against Sun Devils

Feb 26, 2015 - 3:34 PM Salt Lake City, UT ( - The 13th-ranked Runnin' Utes of Utah welcome the Arizona State Sun Devils to the Huntsman Center on Thursday night for a Pac-12 Conference showdown.

Utah had been cruising along in the month of February with five straight wins, but the squad was upset by Oregon last Sunday, 69-58, on the road. With the setback, the Utes are 11-3 in conference play, which is good enough for second place in the Pac-12 standings behind only seventh-ranked Arizona.

The good news for the Utes is that they are carrying a 17-game home winning streak that dates back to last season, the longest run at the Huntsman Center since 2005 when the program put together a 21-game streak. The team is already guaranteed its best Pac-12 finish since coming over to the league from the Mountain West Conference prior to the 2011-12 campaign.

As for the Sun Devils, they've split their 14 league outings and with a 7-7 mark are firmly situated in the seventh spot in the standings. The program lost the first four conference games of the campaign to kick off the 2015 calendar year, but has recently responded with a three-game win streak, thanks in part to a 64-59 victory over USC on Sunday at home.

The all-time series stands at 29-20 in favor of the Utes, with the team having added to the advantage with a 76-59 triumph in the first meeting of the season last month. Utah has won 17 of the games played in Salt Lake City.

ASU made a total of only eight field goals in the first half against visiting USC over the weekend, eventually shooting only 32.8 percent from the floor and 6-of-26 beyond the arc, yet the Sun Devils still pulled out the victory by outscoring the Trojans at the free-throw line, 20-3. In a game that featured seven ties and eight lead changes, Gerry Blakes scored a team-best 12 points, Bo Barnes had 11 and both Shaquielle McKissic and Tra Holder responded with 10 points, while Eric Jacobsen cleared 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.

McKissic, one of only two players to have started every conference game for the Sun Devils, is responsible for 11.6 ppg, although his contributions could be even more significant if he were shooting better than 40.4 percent from the floor and a mere 28.8 percent behind the 3-point line. Blakes adds in another 10.5 ppg, although he too has had issues from the floor (.393) and out on the perimeter (.298) as the team outscores league opponents by only 0.2 ppg.

Utah held a 7-2 advantage over the Ducks in the early going last Sunday, but the visitors to Matthew Knight Arena made good on only 36.5 percent from the field, including 8-of-29 behind the 2-point line. Delon Wright was the only double-digit scorer for the Utes with 20 points as he converted 4-of-7 shots on the outside, adding five assists in 40 minutes of action. While he converted 6-of-9 from the floor overall, the other four starters combined to shoot only 8-of-27.

Now just 4-3 in conference road games, the Utes are taking their cues on offense from Wright who is posting 13.1 ppg, thanks to an impressive 91.8 percent accuracy at the free-throw line and not so much his mere 29.0 percent behind the 3-point line. Brandon Taylor produces another 11.5 ppg and it is he who has a firm handle on attacking from the perimeter with an even 50.0 percent effort. Between the two, they've handed out 135 assists in those 14 league bouts.

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