LOS ANGELES — To borrow a movie title from nearby Hollywood, the Utah Utes found a way “To Live and Die (at least at the start of the second half Saturday) in L.A.”
Less than 48 hours after snapping an 11-game road skid with a win at USC, the Utes suffered their first double-digit setback of the season — dropping an 80-66 decision at UCLA.
“They put some heat on us in the second half and it kind of demoralized us,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It was one of those kind of spurts where they were playing hard and they brought some of the offensive energy down to the defensive side as well.”
The afternoon contest didn’t start out all that bad. The score was tied twice and the lead changed hands one time before UCLA secured a 33-31 halftime advantage.
Utah was in the game despite getting just four points in the opening half from team scoring leader Delon Wright and none from No. 2 producer Jordan Loveridge. UCLA’s defense kept the duo in check, allowing just a combined five shots over the first 20 minutes.
Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker picked up the slack for Utah, though, with eight and six points, respectively, to keep the Utes competitive.
When play resumed, however, UCLA stepped on the accelerator. The Bruins opened the second half with a 12-0 run to seize control of the game.
“Their players just started making plays,” said Loveridge, who was plagued by foul trouble — finishing with four fouls.
Utah turned the ball over five times and missed four shots before finally getting on the board with a basket by Loveridge with 14:27 left to play.
“We couldn’t get a stop and we just couldn’t really score,” Wright said. “So I think those two things happened at one time and that was bad for us.”
The Bruins eventually built a lead as large as 64-47 before the Utes managed to reduce the deficit to 10 with 1:19 to go. They drew no closer, however.
“You see that in a lot of basketball games. They had the burst and we didn’t and we were playing from behind,” Krystkowiak said. “I was proud of our guys for not giving up. There’s a lot of things that we can identify that we need to be better at, but at the end of the day they’ve got a lot — when their five-men can step out and hit 3s it’s difficult to defend — and we had a few different plans and for the most part it was pretty solid.”
Krystkowiak added he thought the first half was pretty good.
“But when you’re playing a team such as UCLA the margin of error is pretty slim,” he said.
UCLA avenged a 74-69 loss to Utah in the Huntsman Center on Jan. 18 and secured its second consecutive 20-win season in the process. Jordan Adams scored a game-high 24 points and Kyle Anderson added 16 and 10 rebounds as the Bruins improved to 20-5 overall and 9-3 in Pac-12 play.
“I’m extremely pleased with our guys. We took it to another level today,” said UCLA coach Steve Alford. “I really liked our intensity for about 32 defensively. We showed enormous progress there. We made it really difficult for Utah.”
Wright topped the Utes (17-8, 6-7) with 16 points. Princeton Onwas and Dallin Bachynski chipped in nine apiece. Taylor finished with eight, while Loveridge and Tucker each had six.
UCLA outrebounded Utah by a 38-29 margin. The Bruins shot 53.4 percent from the field. The Utes connected on just 41.8 percent of their attempts.
“Things weren’t clicking for us,” Wright said. “We just had a bad game. We’ve got to bounce back and get another one.”
Utah returns home this week to face Arizona on Wednesday and Arizona State on Sunday.
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