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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils look to right ship in Salt Lake

Arizona State returns to action for the first time in eight days tonight at Utah.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After falling by 38 points last Wednesday in Tucson, the Arizona State Sun Devils longest road trip of the season continues tonight in Salt Lake City against the Utah Utes.

Utah has been on a roll as of late, winning four straight games to bounce back nicely after getting swept on the road against the Oregon schools. The recent streak has Larry Krystkowiak's team alone in third place in the Pac-12 and just a half game out of first.

The Utes and Arizona State will meet tonight at the Huntsman Center in a game that matters a lot more for the home team than it does for the Sun Devils.

Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. MT

Television: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona State Update (14-13, 4-10 Pac-12):

The Sun Devils last trip to Salt Lake City resulted in disaster as Herb Sendek's team only scored nine first half points en route to an 83-41 loss. The loss snapped a three game winning streak for Sendek and was a "beginning of the end" for sorts for the former ASU head coach.

As noted above, the maroon and gold are coming off a blowout loss against rival Arizona.

The game's lone bright spot came in the form of guard Andre Spight, who scored 15 points off the bench. Spight, of course, is now gone, leaving the program and announcing his intentions to transfer earlier this week.

Utah Update (21-7, 10-5 Pac-12):

If there was any doubt whether or not Utah was a tournament team, it erased those thoughts last week with a road sweep of UCLA and USC. After barely sneaking by the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night, the Utes went across town three days later and handed the Trojans their first home loss of the season.

Krystkowiak's bunch is led by sophomore forward Jakob Poeltl, who is averaging 18.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. The seven-footer only had eight points in last year's beatdown of ASU, but should be able to do a lot more damage tonight with the Sun Devils seriously hurting in the size category.

Look for another couple of big men - Jordan Loveridge and Kyle Kuzma - to have big nights as well. The pair is averaging a combined 23.5 points per game so far this season.

Keys to victory:

1. Force someone other than Poeltl to beat you

All of Arizona State's attention should be on boxing out Poeltl in this one. The Sun Devils allowed Wildcat center Kaleb Tarczewski to pull down 15 rebounds last week, and that can't happen with Poeltl here if they want to escape with an upset.

2. Get Atwood back on track

After exploding for 14 points and six rebounds in an overtime loss at Washington earlier this month, forward Willie Atwood has averaged just 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in the four games since. The senior isn't necessarily an integral part to Hurley's offensive attack, but he did provide a nice spark for the team back in January and December when they would go through dry spells on the offensive end of the floor.

Getting him some early touches and a chance to regain confidence will be big for Atwood and Arizona State. With Spight now out of the picture, he should get even more opportunities to break out of his slump tonight.

3. Start quick in the second half

The Sun Devils have come out cold and sloppy to start their past two second halves against Arizona and Washington. Those lapses resulted in holes far too big to climb out of. They will need a quick second half start at Utah to stay in the game and keep engaged at a point in the season when it can be easy to lose focus.

Prediction: Utah - 80, Arizona State - 73