Ben Howland said last week that UCLA that opponents kept missing open layups, something he’d like as a continued trend. Against Utah Thursday night, the Bruins were helped to a 57-53 road win by some inexplicable 3-point bricks.
Glen Dean took two wide open 3-pointers at 2:02 and 1:41 — allowing the UCLA bench to breathe after watching the team surrender two offensive boards. Howland had said this week that the team would lose if it couldn’t box out effectively, something that has been one of the young squad’s biggest holes.
“They missed some wide open shots late,” Howland said. “Dean missed two wide open shots by the grace of God. I was really happy to escape this place.”
The positives are that the Bruins entered a rough environment and survived. The Huntsman Center was packed with a season-high attendance of 9,510, well above Utah’s home average of 7,380. The increase may be something UCLA should learn to expect: even as they remain a flawed team, the Bruins are an entertaining team and a marquee program.
A close win against the gritty Utes also isn’t necessarily cause for alarm; they’ve now lost three conference games by a combined eight points.
What is worrisome is how shaky the UCLA offense looked for much of the second half. Kyle Anderson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds before the break, essentially vanished; he didn’t score at all in the second half and grabbed just one more board. The team couldn’t fall into any sort of rhythm, and barely avoided falling below the 40-percent mark from the field. Only once this season have the Bruins shot worse, and that was when they barely held on to beat UC Irvine in overtime.
They had looked good heading into halftime in Salt Lake City, holding the Utes to one field goal over the last 8:30 of the period. Jordan Adams scored seven points during a 16-5 run that closed the first half, abusing the 5-foot-10 Dean while Cedric Martin manned Shabazz Muhammad.
That story changed when Utah went on a 9-0 run, cutting the gap to 44-41 midway through the second.
Martin’s defense was effective too, as he forced Muhammad into what was easily the worst game of his career. Muhammad finished with single-digit scoring for the first time, notching six points on 3-of-13 shooting. The touted freshman even airballed 3-pointer late in the game. (His late-game surges have been exciting to watch, but the flip side of that coin is that he’ll have the tendency to force shots even if they’re not falling.)
“I didn’t play like a baby,” Martin said. “I played like a grown man. I never wanted to let him get comfortable out there.”
Players of the game: Larry Drew II. Like everyone else in the game, UCLA’s senior point guard finished with an unspectacular stat line. But it was Drew that sank a dagger layup for the Bruins, going right off a screen that left him alone against Jason Washburn. The 6-foot-10 center didn’t have a chance in the mismatch, and Drew’s hesitation move easily opened a path to the basket and a four-point lead at 0:09.
Drew co-led the team with 12 points, a total matched by Travis Wear and Jordan Adams.
Freshman Jordan Loveridge showed up nicely for the Utes after a slow start, scoring his team’s final six points. His late flurry cut the deficit to 55-53. Somewhat incredibly, Utah couldn’t score over the next 3:28.