LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Steve Alford apparently knew what he was talking about prior to Thursday night's game against No. 11 Utah at Pauley Pavilion. He noted that there's a difference between playing here and playing in Salt Lake City.
There certainly was.
Norman Powell scored 23 points and Bryce Alford added 14 as the Bruins avenged a lopsided loss in the Huntsman Center on Jan. 4 with a 69-59 upset of the Utes. It was a far cry, obviously, from the 71-39 setback earlier in the season.
This one was much more competitive — at least early on. There were five ties and four lead changes before UCLA seized control after taking the lead for good late in the first half. The Bruins held a 33-30 edge at the break, finishing with a basket that ushered in a 14-0 run that extended well into the second half.
Although Utah missed its first seven shots after the intermission, head coach Larry Krystkowiak thought the game was pretty much lost well before then.
"I didn't think it was as much the second half. I though we should have been down 20 in the first half," he said. "We had numerous mistakes. A lot of it was personnel. We were closing out on Powell and letting him drive."
Krystkowiak added that it was just a lot of things that the Utes have talked about the past two or three days that they didn't accomplish.
"That was the mental side of it. I thought they played harder than us — outscrapped us and we made it hard on ourselves," he continued. "We really only had a five-minute stretch where we played hard enough, and we're not just going to show up. We're not the kind of team that's going to show up and things are going to happen. It just wasn't good."
The Utes were stuck on 30 points from the time Dakari Tucker made a layup with 1:49 to go in the opening half until Brandon Taylor made a 3-pointer with more than seven minutes gone in the second.
The drought proved to be more than decisive as Utah drew no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
As for Alford's comments earlier in the week, Krystkowiak acknowledged there's something to be said about a home-court advantage. The Utes are now 3-4 on the road this season.
"Guys are comfortable. I'd like to think that playing at home doesn't mean you play harder," Krystkowiak said. "But they definitely played harder. They wanted it more. They were embarrassed the last time they came to our place. They had an edge to them."
Utah turned the ball over 14 times, while UCLA had just six miscues.
Delon Wright led the Utes with 15 points. Taylor finished with 14.
Utah is now 16-4 overall and 6-2 in Pac-12 play, while UCLA improved to 12-9 and 4-4.
The Utes return to action on Super Bowl Sunday (12:30 p.m., ESPNU) at USC. The Trojans (9-11, 1-7) lost a 98-94 triple-overtime decision to Colorado Thursday night.