UCLA completes season sweep of Utah with 69-58 victory at the Huntsman Center

UCLA guard Chris Smith (5) attempts to dribble around Utah guard Rylan Jones (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

For 36 minutes on Thursday night at the Huntsman Center, UCLA was the aggressor.

The Bruins, one of the Pac-12′s pleasant surprises since the New Year, defended, as is the case with most any Mick Cronin-coached team. They turned the University of Utah over, they scored off those turnovers. With Branden Carlson in foul trouble all night, UCLA won the battle on the boards, won the battle in the paint all told.

For the other four minutes, Utah, aided by a big offensive night from Alfonso Plummer, made things interesting inside the final media timeout.

Four good minutes do not make up for the other 36, though. UCLA saw to it that it stayed one of the hottest teams in the league with the Pac-12 Tournament less than three weeks away, winning its fourth straight and eighth out of 10, 69-58, over the Utes.

The loss for Utah (14-12, 5-9 Pac-12) marks its first at home since Jan. 4 against Oregon. The Utes are now 10-2 at the Huntsman Center with USC, in need of every win it can get as it sits on the NCAA Tournament bubble, coming to town on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m., ESPNU).

“Defensively, it was pretty solid,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “They had some players that stepped up and made plays when they needed to. They made the open shots, but we can’t give them the freebies. One of the first timeouts, they already had nine points on our turnovers. That was a storyline and then rebounding, we got pounded pretty good on the glass.

“I give those guys a lot of credit. They’re playing great, they all understand their roles and we’ve got a ways to go.”

Early in the second half of a game whose outcome was all but decided, Krystkowiak took a timeout after UCLA flew out of the halftime locker room, extending what was a 12-point lead to 19.

Out of that timeout, the Utes committed a shot-clock violation for their 12th of 16 turnovers for the night. Some restless booing ensued inside the Huntsman Center, serving not only as a microcosm for the night, but maybe this season, which has featured wild ups and downs with a radically-young roster.

Late in the second half, Plummer made things interesting. The former JUCO All-American, whose minutes and role have not been steady, hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:20 left. A short time later, he was fouled on a 3-point attempt, then hit all three free throws to close the gap to seven with 1:44 on the clock, but the Utes got no closer.

Plummer finished with 16 points in 17 minutes on 5-for-9 shooting, making a case for more minutes as the regular-season winds down.

“It’s nice, but I feel like we have to get better on defense,” Plummer said. “I’m just trying to work hard every practice, trying to get better, waiting for my chance. Tonight was my night, and I thank my teammates for the looks.”

Krystkowiak noted postgame that lineup changes could be coming, singling out Plummer and freshman forward Mikael Jantunen for playing hard. Jantunen finished with eight points and four rebounds in 29 minutes. He and Plummer were the only two Utes to play to a positive plus-minus rating.


• Utah shoots just 43.8% from the floor in losing to UCLA, 69-58, Thursday night at the Huntsman Center.

• This is Utah’s first home loss since Jan. 4 against Oregon. The Utes are now 10-2 at the Huntsman Center.

• UCLA scores 17 points off 16 Utah turnovers.