Men’s basketball: Utah defeats No. 25 UCLA

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Delon Wright goes in for a layup against UCLA on Saturday at the Huntsman Center. Photo by Chris Ayers.

Delon Wright goes in for a layup against UCLA on Saturday at the Huntsman Center. Photo by Chris Ayers.

On an afternoon when Ute fans packed the Huntsman Center to celebrate the past, the current team gave them a big reason to cheer.

Utah survived a furious UCLA rally to upset the No. 25 Bruins 74-69 Saturday. The Utes improved to 14-4 on the season and 3-3 in Pac-12 play.

Up 17 with 12:47 remaining, Utah had to sweat out the final moments of the game as UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson led a massive comeback. It wasn’t until Los Angeles native Brandon Taylor buried two free throws with 22 seconds remaining that the Utes could breathe easy.

“A lot of it feels really rewarding,” said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It was spooky how it got down to the end of the game, but we had a lot of unforced errors and they came at us with length. That produced a problem. It was not a pretty ending, but it’s a W. One over a top 25 team. I’d say it’s been a pretty good week.”

Down 18-15 with 11:08 left in the first half, the Utes started to push the ball. Transition basket after transition basket became a 15-0 Utah run, and suddenly Krystkowiak’s club seized all momentum. The transition chances came via suffocating defense as the Utes held UCLA’s leading scorer Jordan Adams to no points in the first stanza.

Playing with the lead and with the crowd already buzzing about the halftime celebration of 1990s WAC championship teams, the Utes came out swinging in the second frame. Utah used an up tempo attack to extend its lead to 17, 53-36, as everyone from sophomore Jordan Loveridge to freshman Kenneth Ogbe contributed in building the lead.

The Utes’ offense was firing on all cylinders, and it looked as if they were going to run UCLA right back to Los Angeles. Be it from the altitude or Utah’s attack, the Bruins were visibly tired, so they slowed the game down using a half-court offense. This took the Utes out of rhythm, and suddenly they began relying on jump shots to keep their lead.

At first that worked for the Bruins, as a quick 4-0 UCLA run cut the Utah lead to 13 with 11:47 remaining, but Ogbe responded. The newcomer hit a long two and then a three to keep the Bruins at bay for a time. Ogbe finished the day with 12 points on a perfect 4-for-4 form the field.

“The young man reminds me of Dakarai [Tucker] and Brandon from last year,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s hard to put freshmen in a situation like this. He’s improveding so well in practice. He’s a great example of a kid who got his chance and made the most of it.”

With 9:17 remaining and the Utes still holding a 60-45 lead, the Bruins started to press on every Utah possession, and the Utes began to collapse. A giveaway by Taylor in the backcourt started the turnover trend, and UCLA went on an 11-0 run to cut the lead to four at 60-56 as Utah had trouble even getting the ball past halfcourt. The Bruins’ top NBA prospects led the charge, as Anderson and freshman guard Zach LaVine, along with Adams, traded off making big plays.

Initially, the Utes withstood the Bruin rally, stretching their lead back to 10 at 66-56 with 4:16 remaining, but Anderson would not allow the Bruins to die. Be it his passing or scoring, Anderson willed one more UCLA run. LaVine and Adams both hit shots off Anderson assists and suddenly the Utah lead was down to four with just over a minute remaining. On the day, Anderson finished with 28 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

After Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one, Adams cut the lead to two with 22 ticks left on the clock. Taylor converted the second time around, and the Utes had their upset. With the loss, UCLA fell out of the national rankings.

“We communicated and withstood their runs,” Taylor said. “It’s a big win.”
r.miller@chronicle.utah.edu