Nothing quite boosts the confidence like stomping on a doormat.
The Pac-12 gave the UCLA men’s basketball team a bit of a reprieve on Thursday, a quick pick-me-up after what was a weekend to forget in Oregon.
The Bruins rebounded from back-to-back losses in the Beaver State with a 76-49 win over conference cellar-dweller Utah on Thursday in front of 4,434 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
“This was a real confidence-booster for us,” UCLA sophomore forward David Wear said. “To have two good days of practice and to carry it into the game from practice – we wanted to play 40 minutes without any let-down.”
Heading into the matchup with the Utes, no Bruin was as blue as Joshua Smith. The hulking sophomore center admitted to being in his own head in recent games – particularly in a four-foul, four-turnover performance in a seven-point loss at Oregon last Saturday – and adding a 6-10, 315-pound behemoth to the opponent certainly can’t help UCLA.
Good thing the Utes have only one player taller than 6-6.
But Smith stayed out of his own way on Saturday and steamrolled Utah, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting while tying for the team lead with six rebounds.
“Coach told us they weren’t that big inside – they had the 6-10 dude but outside of that I think the next tallest dude they have is like 6-7,” Smith said. “We had the advantage inside and coach told us to be aggressive.”
When the Bruins made it a concentrated effort to get it to Smith midway through the first half, they were rewarded.
Tied at nine with 15 minutes left in the first half, when Smith entered the game, UCLA went on a 19-8 run, with Smith scoring seven points.
With a little momentum, the Bruins pounced on the Utes, taking a 15-point lead into halftime.
“I talked about the first five minutes of the second half being huge,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “Just keeping up intensity and playing hard. I didn’t talk about last Saturday but it was exactly what was on my mind.
UCLA has been here before, up big at the halfway point. The Bruins were up 13 at halftime against Oregon last Saturday, only to watch the Ducks storm back to win by seven.
There would be no such surge by the lowly Utes. UCLA shot 14-of-19 in the second half, with a balanced effort led by Jerime Anderson. Anderson had eight points in the second half, finishing with 13, while David Wear added 13.
“Our senior guards did a really good job leading us,” Howland said. “I thought Jerime had one of his best games as a Bruin tonight.”