Los Angeles • Utah’s offense is always competitive in the hands of Delon Wright. It’s good when Jordan Loveridge is aggressive. And when Brandon Taylor joins the fray, it becomes explosive.
But when Dakarai Tucker’s hitting shots? It becomes borderline unstoppable.
Utah at UCLA
O At Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
Tipoff » 3 p.m. MDT
TV » Pac-12 Network Radio » 700 AM
Records » Utah 17-7 (6-6 Pac-12); UCLA 19-5 (8-3)
Series history » UCLA leads 6-5
Last meeting » Utah 74, UCLA 69 (Jan. 18)
About the Utes » Utah earned its first Pac-12 road win in more than a year Thursday at USC. … The Utes, tied for seventh in the conference, would go over .500 in Pac-12 play for the first time ever with a win.
About the Bruins » UCLA is second in the Pac-12 behind Arizona. … Kyle Anderson had 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in Thursday’s win over Colorado. … UCLA hasn’t lost to Utah in Los Angeles since 1961.
The first eight minutes of the second half Thursday night proved it. Tucker, the Los Angeles native, scored 11 of his 13 points in that span. Three of his makes came from beyond the 3-point arc. A tomahawk dunk in transition sent the Ute fans in the near-empty Galen Center into a frenzy.
The result was a 79-71 win over USC and Utah’s first road win of the season. Wright scored 20 points and Loveridge added 18. But this wouldn’t have happened without Tucker’s explosion.
"We were fighting for a road win and I didn’t want to let my team down," Tucker said. "I felt relaxed out there, and I got into a groove and my shot started to fall."
In many ways, Tucker has been a barometer for the Utes this season, and he will be so again Saturday when Utah plays at UCLA. When he shoots well, he adds another dimension to the offense. His ability to shoot helps space the floor for Loveridge and the post players, and the driving lanes are more open for Wright and Taylor. For example, Dallin Bachynski scored 13 points against the Trojans; mostly because of Tucker, he saw one-on-one coverage on the interior and had room to work.
It hasn’t been easy for Tucker this season. He’s seen his minutes fluctuate. The coaches haven’t always been happy with his defense, and he’s been platooned because of it.
"Dakarai was just big for us," Taylor said. "He’s home in Los Angeles for the first time, and he was just feeling it. He made big shots and he did other things that really helped us."
Tucker’s most impressive play had nothing to do with offense. Midway through the second half, Byron Wesley went to the basket and Tucker blocked his shot. He hustled after the loose ball, dived and knocked it off Wesley at the last moment. It was the kind of defensive effort that’s been missing at times this season. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak congratulated him when he returned to the bench.
The Utes will need more of the same if they plan on beating a Bruins team that is one of the best offensively in the Pac-12. UCLA beat Colorado 92-74 on Thursday, blitzing the Buffaloes with 3-pointers and Kyle Anderson’s all-around wizardry.
"It’s an important game for us," Taylor said. "They are going to be waiting for us and we have to be ready for them. We’ll go and look at the film and see what we can do."
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