Mike Saunders scores 25 off the bench, but Runnin’ Utes still fall to No. 4 UCLA

Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins to a 78-71 win over Utah at the Huntsman Center.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half and Tyger Campbell added 18 to lift No. 4 UCLA to a 78-71 win over Utah on Thursday night.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes center Branden Carlson (35) goes to the hoop, as UCLA guard Jaylen Clark (0) forward Adem Bona (3) defend for the Bruins, in PAC-12 basketball action between Utah Utes and UCLA Bruins, at the Jon M.Huntsman Center, Thursday, February. 23, 2022.

“Jaime is a big-time player. He’s an All-American and a guy that’s going to play in the NBA for 10-12 years, so it’s not a surprise,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said.

Jaquez, who was UCLA’s only effective offensive player in the second half, made a 3-pointer with 1:03 remaining to seal the win just moments after Campbell made a 3 from the corner.

“I prepare myself to be in these situations,” Jaquez said. “My guys have faith in me that I’m going to make the right play every time down the stretch.”

UCLA (24-4, 15-2 Pac-12) has won seven in a row despite giving up more than 70 points for just the fourth time this season.

“The key is number one, taking care of the ball, and two, relying on your defense to get things done, not your offense,” Campbell said.

Mike Saunders Jr. came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points for Utah (17-12, 10-8 Pac-12), which has lost three in a row.

“Honestly, it felt amazing and it was crazy because I envisioned it,” Saunders said. “I was just waiting for an opportunity. I feel like my teammates believe in me.”

The Utes played without their starting backcourt of Rollie Worster and Gabe Madsen, who are both injured. Utah finally started making 3-pointers in the second half and cut the Bruins lead to 62-59 after Wilguens Exacte and Saunders hit from beyond the arc.

But Jaquez came up with baskets when the Bruins needed them most.

“The game was never in jeopardy,” Cronin said, despite Utah’s late runs. “When you have Jaime and Tyger, it’s easy to be confident.”

Utah held the Bruins without a field goal for more than six minutes in the middle of the second half, highlighted by a couple of thunderous blocks from Branden Carlson and Keba Keita.

“It was a heck of an effort. We’re not into moral victories but really, really proud of the way they played today,” Utah coach Craig Smith said.

Saunders, who only had three points in all of conference play coming into the game, brought a new element of speed to the Utes but made some mistakes characteristic of seldom-used players.

“He’s going to learn. They were some things tonight he’s got to do better, but he really sparked us on the offensive end,” Smith said.

UCLA’s 15-2 mark through 17 Pac-12 games marks the program’s best conference start since the 2007-08 Final Four team with Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.

Jaquez thinks this team can go even further.

“National championship. That’s what we got in mind,” Jacquez said.

Tyger Campbell scored 10 of his points in the first half and helped manufacture open shots for his teammates while the Bruins held the Utes to 33 percent and 0-for-10 from 3-point range to take a 43-31 lead at halftime.


UCLA: The Bruins took what the Utes gave them, so they consistently scored from the mid-range. Even with their scoring drought, the Bruins took care of the ball with only six turnovers, marking the 27th of 28 games this season they have less giveaways than their opponent.

Utah: The Utes made it difficult at times for the Bruins with a determined effort on the boards and a lot of hustle, but the Utes couldn’t shoot. Without their guards, Saunders was a pleasant surprise, but it didn’t matter because UCLA shot so well early and held Carlson in check.


UCLA has been in the Top 10 for the last month and further upward mobility will probably depend on one of the top three losing this weekend.


UCLA: At Colorado on Sunday.

Utah: Hosts Southern Cal on Saturday.