SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s 74-69 win over UCLA proved to be a milestone of sorts. With Saturday’s triumph, the Utes have now recorded a victory over every Pac-12 team except for Arizona since joining the conference in 2011-12.
At 14-4 overall and 3-3 in Pac-12 play, Utah is making great strides since going 6-25 and 15-18 over the past two seasons.
There were a lot of happy faces up on the hill after the Utes outlasted the Bruins, fending off a late rally after building a 17-point lead in the second half.
“Overall it was great,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said of the atmosphere that surrounded the game. A loud crowd of 12,267 was on hand as the Utes celebrated their first win over UCLA in Salt Lake City in 86 years.
Despite the celebration, Krystkowiak expressed a desire to maintain the program’s focus as things turn from bad to good.
“I don’t like the extremes that much,” he said in his postgame press conference. “What scares me is we’ve been through a lot in 2½ years here and always tried to keep kind of an even keel with our approach.”
Krystkowiak explained that through the tough times it’s been about waking up the next morning with a chance to get a little bit better. Every day, he added, is a jump ball.
“Now maybe we’re starting to move toward the other end of the spectrum,” Krystkowiak noted. “And we certainly don’t want to change that blueprint at all.”
The whole thing, he added, is a process.
“I think you’re going to always be faced with different challenges,” Krystkowiak said.
In the win over UCLA, the Utes had difficulties to overcome. The Bruins rallied from a 53-36 deficit in the second half to close the gap to just two points with 23 seconds to go.
Utah held them off, though, by making five free throws in the final 53.7 seconds. A steal by Delon Wright also contributed to the late heroics.
“It just shows that we can finish. They made a big run. They were coming back,” said Utah forward Jordan Loveridge, who finished with a team-high 17 points and nine rebounds. “We stopped the run, made some free throws. It just shows that we can win close games.”
Contributions were plentiful. Wright wound up with 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. Brandon Taylor and Kenneth Ogbe also scored 12 points apiece for the Utes.
Eight players scored for Utah, while seven made steals, six grabbed rebounds and five were credited with assists.
“That’s what a team is all about,” Taylor said. “It’s not about one guy or two guys.”
Utah’s next three games are on the road. The Utes, who play at Arizona State Thursday and at top-ranked Arizona on Sunday before heading to Colorado the following Saturday, are just 1-19 in Pac-12 away games.
“Let’s face it, if we’re going to be successful and maybe start reaching some of the goals that we want to reach, we’ve got to get better on the road,” Krystkowiak said.
In this season’s Pac-12 games away from home, Utah dropped a 59-57 decision at Washington and suffered a 49-46 setback at Washington State.
“I feel like if we play defense like we did at Washington we’ll be fine,” Loveridge said as the Utes look ahead to this week’s trip to Arizona. “And if we just get our stroke early and get out and run — get some easy baskets — it’ll help us a lot.”
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