On Thursday night, Utah nearly squandered a 14-point lead but in the end was able to hold on and beat UCLA 75-73 in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA had several opportunities to tie the game at 70 apiece at the end of the game but missed all of them.
With under a minute to play, the Bruins decided to let Utah play it out, and Brandon Taylor made them pay by draining a three-pointer to put the Utes up 73-68. The Bruins got a bucket to drop to get to 70, but as they were pressing in the closing seconds to try to force a turnover, they left the backcourt wide open for Kyle Kuzma, who sealed the win for the Utes with a layup.
Taylor thinks the team should have been more prepared for UCLA to come back after doing it so many times this season, and the Utes didn’t do much to help their case by making several mistakes toward the end.
“That was tough,” Taylor said. “We knew they weren’t going to go away, and we didn’t make it easier by turning over the ball.”
Utah finished the night shooting 50 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from three-point range. They turned the ball over just eight times. On the other bench, UCLA shot 47.5 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Utah was led by Jordan Loveridge, who finished with 17 points, followed by Jakob Poeltl with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds. Kuzma was next up with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Taylor ended with 12 points and seven assists.
UCLA took an early 5-4 lead after draining a three-pointer, but Loveridge tied up the score when he got his first three of the game shortly after. Poeltl was then called for an early foul, but he continued to be aggressive in defending the paint.
There was a lot of back-and-forth play between the two teams, as neither was really able to separate itself from the other, and both teams made a couple of mindless turnovers. Loveridge did make another three, and Dakarai Tucker made a couple of his own to give Utah a 24-23 edge.
The Bruins soon took a four-point lead, but the Utes didn’t let them extend it by much. Poeltl brought some life to Utah when he emphatically dunked the ball to bring the Utes within two points. Another Loveridge bucket tied the game up at 31 heading into halftime.
Loveridge continued his hot shooting from beyond the arc and in the first few minutes of the second half made two three-pointers off the bat. Utah led 41-36 with 16:18 left to play.
Poeltl, who only had four points at the half, started to attack the paint more. Behind a few of his buckets, Utah found itself in control of the game with a nine-point lead, 49-40, forcing UCLA to call a timeout.
Utah soon extended its lead to 14 points after coming away with a few steals, leaving UCLA scrambling to make a single basket. The Bruins were attempting to cut into this lead, but Poeltl was there to keep the double-digit lead for the Utes. Taylor then knocked down a three to get the lead back up to 14 as Utah led 64-50 with 6:58 left.
But after making five straight field goals, the Bruins would not go away, and they eventually cut the lead to seven points. With 2:30 left, UCLA trimmed it down to just two points as the Utes were clinging on to their 70-68 edge, but Utah eventually went on to take care of business.
Assistant coach Andy Hill gives credit to UCLA for getting back into the game, but he is glad the team was able to pull out a win for a few of the LA native Utes.
“It’s especially fitting for those LA kids, Dakarai [Tucker], Brandon [Taylor], Chris [Reyes], for them to come home and win at Pauley Pavilion, that means a lot,” Hill said in a postgame interview with ESPN700. “Every road win’s important, but they got all their family here, and it’s a place they grew up.”
This was Utah’s first win at UCLA since joining the Pac-12, and the Utes have now won three games in a row. Next up, the Utes face USC on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. PT.