Today, the Utes were simply the better team, more talented, played better defense, and were better coached. Normally, you don't expect to say that when Utah's opponent is national basketball power UCLA, but head coach Larry Krystkowiak's Utes improved to 12-2 on the season, 2-0 in the Pac-12, 10-0 at home with a 71-39 blowout of the vaunted Bruins.
A 32-point walkover of UCLA is news, of course, but maybe it was expected, as Utah leads the Pac-12 in scoring margin at +19.5. (Second place Arizona is +16.0.) This game was won on the defensive end of the court, where the Utes are playing like ghosts from the Majerus past. (And UCLA seems disinterested in playing defense at all.) UCLA leading scorer Bryce Alford, head coach Steve Alford's son, was held scoreless. That is zero points on 0-for-10 shooting, 0-for-4 from thee-point range. Alford came into today's game averaging 16.8 points per game.
In fact, the Bruins had just one double-figure scorer, forward Tony Parker, who put up 12 points. Parker also recorded three rebounds and a blocked shot.
Second leading scorer Norman Powell was held to 8 points (7.6 off his average) on 3-of-8 shooting, 0-of-1 from deep. Powell is a player who often scores in the lane and on transition baskets, but Utah kept him from getting near the basket often, limiting his looks at the rim.
Utah held UCLA to 28.8 percent shooting for the game 9.1 percent (that's not an error), 1-of-11, from downtown. And while the Utes defense was good, the Bruins did themselves few favors, often going one-on-one, throwing up quick perimeter shots, and hitting just 8-of-15 (53.3 percent) from the free throw line.
For the home team, Delon Wright led the team in scoring with 11 points. Wright, always the Swiss Army Knife, also contributed seven rebounds, five assists, four steals, and a blocked shot.
Starting guard Brandon Taylor, who had a tough shooting night against USC on Friday, rebounded with six points on 2-of-3 from outside the three-point arc. Taylor was excellent at getting others shots today, however, notching a game-high six assists, as well as three rebounds.
Freshman center Jakob Poeltl came one point from another double-double, scoring nine points and pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds (four on the offensive glass).
The Utes dominated the glass of the Huntsman Center, out-rebounding UCLA 31-18, which may also have been expected, as Utah leads the conference in rebounding margin (+8.8).
What may have been a surprise to fans of the crimson and white was Utah's free throw shooting. The Utes came into the contest shooting just 65.1 percent from the charity stripe, but against UCLA, Utah went 16-of-19 from the line (84.2 percent). Poeltl is still a liability from the line, averaging 45.6 percent and shooting just 1-of-3 today, but the rest of the team was nearly perfect. If the Utes can hold this kind of improvement, they'll be very difficult to beat, even on the road.
With the win, Utah completes the weekend sweep of the Southern California schools, having beaten USC on Friday. Fellow Rocky Mountain terror Colorado is next up for the Utes in the Huntsman Center to close out the three-game home stand to open Pac-12 play. Colorado also swept UCLA and USC and are 9-5 on the season, 2-0 in conference. The Buffaloes have been playing without center Josh Scott who has been out due to back spasms. If Scott doesn't play against the Utes, that would give Krystkowiak's team a decided advantage in the paint, both offensively and defensively.
Utah is currently atop the Pac-12, along with Colorado, with the early leader to be decided by the head-to-head matchup on Wednesday at 7 p.m. MT in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Utes pick up another W... Utah has no trouble with UCLA defeating the Bruins 71-39! RECAP: http://t.co/uy6BaFk7eU pic.twitter.com/Yptl7Aqbjz— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 4, 2015
Delon Wright's steal sparked a fast break for the @Runnin_Utes and earned our pick for #UCLAvsUTAH Play of the Game. http://t.co/uwmfsybsiO— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) January 4, 2015