Utah will be seeking to avoid a letdown Thursday night against a lowly opponent with a showdown looming over the weekend.
The No. 22 Utes will be heavily favored to post a fifth consecutive victory as they look to defeat Arizona State for the 10th straight time at home.
Utah (21-7, 10-5 Pac-12) won twice on the road last week, 75-73 against UCLA on Thursday and 80-69 over Southern California on Sunday to move back into the Top 25 after dropping out in early January.
A sold-out crowd is expected for Saturday’s showdown against No. 9 Arizona, although the Utes must focus on a Sun Devils team that hasn’t won in Salt Lake City since 1975 and received more bad news this week.
Arizona State (14-13, 4-10) announced Tuesday that junior guard Andre Spight has left the program and plans to transfer, leaving it with eight scholarship players.
Utah won twice over Arizona State last season by a total of 59 points. An 83-41 home rout with a halftime score of 41-9 was the Sun Devils’ worst loss since a 117-71 defeat to USC in March 1998.
Utes 7-footer Jakob Poeltl did not see much action against the Sun Devils last season, making 7 of 8 shots and adding 13 rebounds and seven blocks in 48 minutes.
Poeltl has posted three straight double-doubles and has 12 on the season after he had 29 points and 13 boards against the Trojans. He made his first four shots from the floor.
”It’s easy to play when you get rolling, when you see the ball go in at the start,” Poeltl said. ”You just have that energy and you can go all day long.”
Poeltl is shooting 74.6 percent in his last five games and leads all major college players in field-goal percentage at 66.8.
”Our guys are doing a nice job delivering it to him and he’s not forcing the issue,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “He’s shooting the high-percentage shot. He’ll find the open guy if the double-team does come. It’s been a nice combination.”
Jordan Loveridge scored 13 on Sunday and senior guard Brandon Taylor reached double digits in assists for the first time in his career with 10 after having seven against the Bruins.
”Brandon has been a little stubborn, and he’d probably be the first to admit it,” Krystkowiak said. “It took him a while to figure it out, but better late than never.”
Arizona State has not played since last Wednesday’s 99-61 road loss to the Wildcats. Spight and Obinna Oleka each scored 15 points.
The Sun Devils have an average of nearly five shots per game blocked for the conference’s worst mark. Poeltl had six blocks in the 42-point rout.
Arizona State top scorer Tra Holder averages 15.1 points, but he’s totaled 15 on 5-of-23 shooting in his last two games and failed to score while going 0 for 8 with six turnovers in 51 minutes against Utah last season.