SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Close games have not been friendly to Utah in Pac-12 play this season. This time, though, the Utes wrote a new ending to a familiar script.
Brandon Taylor and Delon Wright combined to hit three of four free throws in the final 22 seconds and Kyle Anderson committed a costly turnover in the final seconds to help Utah surprise No. 25 UCLA 74-69 on Saturday.
The Utes dropped three of their first four league contests by a total of seven points and lost each game in the final seconds. So, when UCLA erased a double-digit deficit and got within a basket in the final minute, it looked like Utah’s worst nightmare was coming true again.
“It just shows we can finish,” Utah forward Jordan Loveridge said. “They made a big run. They were coming back and we stopped the run and made some free throws. It just shows we can win some close games.”
Loveridge scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead a balanced attack that lifted the Utes (14-4, 3-3 Pac-12) to their first victory over the Bruins since the 1983 NCAA tournament. Wright, Taylor and Kenneth Ogbe each scored 12 points for Utah, which also beat UCLA at home for the first time since 1928.
Kyle Anderson had 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for UCLA, and Zach LaVine added 15 off the bench for the Bruins. UCLA (14-4, 3-2) stormed back from a 17-point deficit to get within two in the final minute, but could not overcome Anderson’s costly turnover.
For Utah, it represented a major breakthrough: winning a close game against a good opponent after so many near-misses.
“I like where we’re going,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It’s always nice when you can learn a lesson and not lose a game. We’ve learned some lessons in these close games, but it’s not good medicine.”
UCLA drew within 12 after Jordan Adams drained a 3-pointer for his first basket of the game to cut the lead to 46-34. Utah responded with three consecutive baskets – punctuated by Loveridge’s 3-pointer – to take its largest lead at 53-36 with 12:47 left.
The Bruins had one more run left in them. After Utah took a 60-45 lead on a pair of free throws from Jeremy Olsen, UCLA threatened the Utes with an 11-0 run. After Tony Parker made a layup with 6:01 left, the Bruins had cut Utah’s advantage to four at 60-56.
Utah boosted its lead back to nine at 69-60 on a corner 3-pointer from Dakarai Tucker with 2:34 remaining. The Bruins cut into the deficit again by forcing turnovers with a full-court press to set up easy baskets. They made it a one possession game when Adams drained a jumper to cut Utah’s lead to 71-69 with 23 seconds left.
Taylor made a pair of free throws to boost the lead back to four and then Wright stole the ball from Anderson with 11.1 seconds left to seal the win.
“We got the effort in the second half that was at a really good level and I thought we got ourselves back in it,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “It was just a road trip where we didn’t get many shots and that put a strain on us.”
Utah found an offensive rhythm early by attacking from the perimeter. Taylor made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and Princeton Onwas added a third long-distance basket a minute later to give the Utes a quick 9-4 lead.
UCLA turned to the same formula to erase the deficit. The Bruins caught Utah and took an 18-15 lead after Anderson buried consecutive baskets from distance to cap a 10-2 run.
It didn’t take Utah much time to answer UCLA’s run with a bigger and better one. The Utes ripped off 15 unanswered points to race out to a 30-18 lead with 5:53 left before halftime. Loveridge and Wright helped fuel that spurt by driving to the basket and getting layups or free throws. Each player converted a three-point play during that run.
UCLA had trouble battling back because the Bruins offense stalled after starting strong early. The Bruins shot just 31 percent (9 of 29) from the field before halftime – nearly 20 percent below their season average. The worst part is UCLA missed 15 of 18 shots over the final 11:07 of the first half.
“We dialed in on the scouting report,” Taylor said. “We knew where guys were at all times. We were getting in the right spots and we were just communicating.”
UCLA endured a seven-minute stretch without making a field goal until Travis Wear made a jumper with 4:01 left. Subsequent back-to-back 3-pointers from Wear and Anderson helped the Bruins trim Utah’s lead to 32-26 with 2:06 remaining before halftime.
Loveridge and Dallin Bachynski each scored a basket to put the Utes back ahead double-digits going into the locker room. The Utes kept things rolling after halftime.
“They really played well in the first half and we didn’t,” Alford said. “I thought we had a really bad start to this game and this is a tough turnaround.”