SALT LAKE CITY — Utah was outmatched, outplayed, out-whatever-words-can-be-inserted-here as the visiting UCLA Bruins defeated the Utes 69-58 in a mostly lifeless effort from the opening tipoff.
And yet, UCLA almost blew it late in the game.
After trailing by as many as 20 points, Utah made a late run on the back of Alfonso Plummer, who had a team-high 16 points that included the team's only made 3-pointers — 3 out of 12 attempts — and a 3-point play at the charity stripe after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt.
The run by Plummer and the rest of the Utes cut UCLA's lead to 7 points, but the Bruins hit free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Utah (14-12, 5-9) had no answer on the night as UCLA (16-11, 9-5) picked the Utes apart in every facet of the game. And it’s not that the Bruins played a perfect game either; Utah simply had no answer and the Bruins had free reign.
Turnovers, which included multiple shot clock violations, doomed the Utes early as the team committed five turnovers in the opening four minutes, and UCLA capitalized with a quick 9 points off of Utah’s mistakes. The mistakes continued and shooting woes that included several scoring droughts complicated the matter for the Utes.
"This isn't the point of the season to worry about hurting anybody's feelings, we've got to put guys on the floor that are ready to produce and commit to it," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said after the game. "At this point, it might be time to shake a few things up — see if guys are better coming off the bench.
"I really liked the way some guys competed tonight," he added. "We've just got to get a little dirty and nasty from time to time, and everybody needs to stay connected. I trust that there'll be some changes — it's not a threat — it's just something I think we need to evaluate."
The one early sign of hope: freshman center Branden Carlson.
Carlson, who has taken a big step forward offensively and defensively in the last few weeks, scored the first 6 points of the game for the Utes. But Carlson picked up a second foul with 9:51 left in the first half and was sent to the bench for the remaining time. In his absence, Utah managed only 6 points and trailed by 12 at the break despite sloppy play by the Bruins.
Carlson’s 8 first-half points led the team at the break, as no other player had more than 3 points going into the locker room in a seemingly uninspired effort from the home team. In Carlson’s absence, UCLA managed 14 of their 33 first-half points in the paint.
The freshman quickly picked up a third foul a minute into the second half and a fourth minutes later, essentially limiting Utah’s ability to put a big body in the post to stop UCLA as he sat on the bench again. Carlson was then whistled for his fifth and final foul with just under five minutes left in the game. He nearly finished with a team-high of 10 points in 13 minutes of play.
The Bruins’ Jules Bernard led his team in scoring with 16 points, and Tyger Campbell added 13 points and four assists in the road win.
Utah returns to action Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Huntsman Center as the team welcomes USC to Salt Lake City.