Utah basketball: UCLA edges Utes, 57-53
So much was different about the Huntsman Center on Thursday night.
A season-high 9,510 fans showed up to see Utah battle UCLA. The student section, nonexistent for so long, provided the Utes with a true homecourt advantage for the first time in seemingly forever. And Utah provided high drama, pushing the Bruins to the brink in front of those who braved a winter storm to attend.
Unfortunately for the Utes, their 2013 Pac-12 narrative remains the same.
Utah had the ball with a chance for the win down the stretch again. The Utes received a wide-open look from a good shooter again. And when the ball didn't drop, Utah had to settle for a heartbreaking defeat again, this time 57-53.
The Utes are now 0-3 in league play, with those three defeats coming by a combined eight points. If the conference was determined by moral victories, Utah would easily be in first place right now.
"Glen Dean had two shots that could've put us in the lead that he usually makes in his sleep," senior center Jason Washburn said. "I would trust him with those shots 100 times over. This was just the one time that they didn't go down. That didn't lose us the game. We lost the game by not making shots over a period of time."
Much like the near-comeback against Arizona last Saturday, the Utes rallied from a sizable second-half deficit. And like the Arizona matchup, Utah did it with defense, surrendering just 23 points after halftime and frustrating the talented UCLA freshmen who looked so good in the first 20 minutes.
Utes senior swingman Cedric Martin limited Bruins leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad to six points on 3 of 13 shooting. Jordan Adams was an offensive menace to Utah in the first half, but struggled after halftime. Kyle Andersen didn't even score in the second half.
"I did whatever I could," Martin said. "I knew Muhammad was one of the best guys in the country, and that he's one of the leading scorers in the conference. I didn't play like a baby. I played like a grown man. I never wanted to let him get comfortable out there."
Behind freshman forward Jordan Loveridge, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, the Utes were able to pull all the way within 55-53 with 1:06 remaining. At that score, Utah missed five shots, all of which were good looks at the rim. The two wide-open shots by Dean will be remembered. But Loveridge missed a layup, and Washburn missed a rebound putback that he normally dunks.
All of it overshadows what was a good offensive second half for the Utes. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak challenged his team at halftime to move the ball offensively and to get better shots. Utah did that, controlling the tempo and imposing its will on UCLA.
Martin led the Utes with 12 points. Washburn had 11 points and 11 rebounds, his third consecutive double-double to start conference play. Dean went 1 of 11 from the field, but had six rebounds and five assists.
"We just have to stay the course and keep the faith," Krystkowiak said. "Eventually, we know that those shots are going to start going our way. We were outplayed in the first half. We didn't have any energy. I thought we simply played much harder in the second half."