He plays a lot bigger than he actually is. —David Collette
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Justin Bibbins is making the most of his first and only season with the Utes.
The graduate transfer from Long Beach State is on a roll entering Thursday’s game against 14th-ranked Arizona in the Huntsman Center. Bibbins is averaging 20.6 points and has made 5.3 shots per game from 3-point range over victories against Northwestern State, Oregon and Oregon State.
“My confidence is real high,” Bibbins said. “The biggest thing for me is just I know and believe I can make the shots that I’m shooting and they’re going in.”
In his current run of success, Bibbins had made 21 of 38 shots from the field. The tally includes 16 of 26 accuracy behind the arc.
The 5-foot-8, 150-pound guard from Carson, California, who is Utah’s second-leading scorer (13.1 ppg), tops the team in minutes (32.4), 3-pointers made (33), assists (58) and steals (14). He’s shooting 50.9 percent from the field and averages 3.3 rebounds.
“He plays a lot bigger than he actually is,” said senior forward David Collette, who also praised Bibbins’ leadership.
The latter is something the Utes identified early. Despite being new to the program, Bibbins was chosen to be a team captain and joined Collette as Utah’s player representatives at Pac-12 Media Day.
“Justin’s been big for us this year. He’s been a great grad transfer for us,” said senior forward Tyler Rawson. "We’ve needed a leader missing ‘Zo (Lorenzo Bonam) from this last year. We needed a veteran point guard to come in and run the program and he’s done a great job of coming in and just taking care of business.”
Rawson added that Bibbins has stepped up as a leader on and off the court. He’s making big plays in games, Rawson continued, and is someone the Utes can count on with his hustle.
Utah’s style of play is what attracted Bibbins to the program years ago. He watched how fellow Los Angeles-area prep star Brandon Taylor was utilized despite his smallish frame (5-foot-10, 167 pounds).
“He was fearless here,” Bibbins said. “That drew my attention.”
So, too, did playing in the Pac-12.
Unfortunately for Bibbins, who played against Taylor in high school, Utah didn’t have a spot available when it came time to enroll. Bibbins ended up at Long Beach State and earned all-conference honors twice in his career there. After earning his degree, he was free to transfer elsewhere and be eligible immediately.
Utah proved to be the place.
“I wanted to come here for a while. But everything works out for a reason,” Bibbins said. “I asked for my release at Long Beach and Coach K reached out to me and I took a visit out here and just loved it.”
The timing worked out right.
“We recruited Justin out of high school a little bit and he was a lot of what we were looking for, kind of the floor general model,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We had Brandon Taylor, who was already in our program. I have no problems coaching or playing with small guards. It’s just tough playing with two small guards. You put yourself in some predicaments. So we had to make a decision there.”
Bibbins then went on to Long Beach State and eventually opted to transfer for his final year of eligibility. The past affiliation with Utah proved to be beneficial, especially with the Utes in need of help at his position.
“He probably looked at our roster with graduating Lorenzo and did the math and figured out it would be a pretty good time,” Krystkowiak said. “So it was a fortunate break for us and he’s just grinded.”
Both Bibbins and Krystkowiak credit Utah’s European tour in the offseason for helping him assimilate to his new surroundings so quickly.
“He’s provided a spark on both sides of the floor,” said Krystkowiak, who added that Bibbins is competitive, makes his teammates better, shoots the ball quite well and has proven to be a good defender in the backcourt.
"He’s given us a lot of things that we were hoping he would give us.”
No. 14 Arizona (11-3, 1-0) at Utah (10-3, 2-0)
Thursday, 7 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM