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Utah Utes basketball: Utes hope to cure road woes during UCLA, USC swing

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 1:27 p.m. MST

 (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

LOS ANGELES — When Utah guard Chris Hines learned the Utes were joining the Pac-12, the junior was eager to play games in venues he had only seen on television as a youngster.

UCLA's famed Pauley Pavilion was one of them.

Unfortunately for Hines, Thursday's game between the Utes and Bruins won't be played at the historic arena. The building is undergoing a $136 million renovation and is out of commission until next season.

UCLA, meanwhile, is playing most of its home games this year in the aging Los Angeles Sports Arena, where the NBA's once-downtrodden Clippers used to play.

"Of course, you want to go to John Wooden's court and see all the banners and see all the great players that have been there playing in a facility like that," Hines said of the venue change. "But hopefully next year it will happen for us, if it gets done in time."

Utah Utes guard Chris Hines (0) shoots over Arizona Wildcats forward Solomon Hill (44) in Salt Lake City  Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes guard Chris Hines (0) shoots over Arizona Wildcats forward Solomon Hill (44) in Salt Lake City Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Despite the disappointment, Hines acknowledged it's still fun to play a conference game against UCLA.

"They still have that name on their jerseys," he said as the Utes embark on a two-game trip that includes a Saturday night trip to USC. "So it's always fun to compete against that."

Competing on the road is Utah's aim. The Utes are 0-6 on the road this season and 0-9 in games played away from the Huntsman Center. They haven't won on an opponent's home floor since Hines hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a 62-60 decision at New Mexico last February.

"I think we're hungry and I think California is going to be the spot we get it," Hines said after noting that last Saturday's 64-43 home-court win over Arizona State was "big time" and provided a confidence boost.

At 5-14 overall and 2-5 in Pac-12 play, the Utes are eager to continue making progress. Prevailing on the road would be a welcomed step.

Chris Hines, of Utah, goes up for a shot as Arizona State faces the University of Utah in men's NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Chris Hines, of Utah, goes up for a shot as Arizona State faces the University of Utah in men's NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

It isn't, however, something that is weighing heavily on the coaches and players.

"I don't think it is. We've had some stretches where we've played pretty good on the road and that's all part of maturing, I think, as a team," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in downplaying any kind of mounting or accumulating pressure to end the skid away from home. "I don't think our guys feel that way. It's an opportunity for us to go and try to compete in some adverse circumstances."

Krystkowiak's squad almost surprised Stanford two weeks ago, but wound up dropping a 68-65 decision. Visiting UCLA and USC, he noted, represents another chance to succeed.

"We're going to play two great basketball schools, traditions, and we haven't played well on the road," Krystkowiak said. "So our opportunity is to prove we can play a little better on the road, come together and try to get a road win."

Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak talks with Utah Utes guard Chris Hines (0)  during NCAA basket ball action in Salt Lake City  Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. The Utes won in overtime.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak talks with Utah Utes guard Chris Hines (0) during NCAA basket ball action in Salt Lake City Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. The Utes won in overtime. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

UCLA isn't playing to program standards of the past. The Bruins are struggling along at 10-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play.

Even so, Krystkowiak isn't putting much stock in it.

"In my mind, they're better than us. So we've got to be ready regardless of what their record is," he said. "We're going to be an underdog and we've got to be really focused and not thinking about their record but more just thinking a way to compete for 40 minutes."

In scouting the Bruins, Krystkowiak noted that they're really long and athletic. Twins David and Travis Wear, who are 6-foot-10 sophomores, combine for 21.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Guard Lazeric Jones is the leading scorer with a 13.5 average.

"They've got a lot of different pieces and firepower to what they do," Krystkowiak said.

GAME NOTES: Utah and UCLA will be meeting for the first time since the second round of the 1983 NCAA tournament in Boise when Pace Mannion and the 10th-seed Utes advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 67-61 upset of the second-ranked Bruins. … The all-time series is knotted at 4-4. … UCLA coach Ben Howland played for and graduated from Weber State. … This will be the Bruins' first game at the L.A. Sports Arena since a 71-63 win over Richmond on Dec. 23. They topped Arizona and Arizona State in "home games" at the Honda Center in Anaheim earlier this month.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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