SALT LAKE CITY — Strong defense is keying Utah’s success in more sports than just football. The No. 10 Utes are using it to also stifle opponents on the basketball court.
The UCLA Bruins became the latest in a long line of teams to learn what combating such a tough defense entails. Utah wasted no time putting its stamp on both ends of the court in a 71-39 victory over the Bruins on Sunday.
The Utes’ defense held UCLA to just 29 percent from the field while going 1 of 11 from 3-point range in the loss.
“If you guard a team like that, they’re going to shoot bad shots eventually, if you don’t give them the shots they want,” junior forward Jordan Loveridge said. “If you make them shoot contested shots and get the rebounds, they’re going to have a tough night.”
Utah (12-2, 2-0 Pac-12) had no trouble generating offense when needed. Guard Delon Wright scored 11 points while collecting seven rebounds, five assists and four steals to lead a balanced offensive attack. Loveridge added 10 points and five rebounds while center Jakob Poeltl chipped in nine points and 10 rebounds.
The Utes beat the Bruins in Salt Lake City for the second straight season in large part because everyone found a way to contribute. Eleven different players scored for Utah.
“It was really unique,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “To score that many points to win a game like this and our leading scorer has 11 — it speaks volumes. Nobody is out here trying to dazzle the world.”
Forward Tony Parker scored 12 points to lead UCLA, which lost its fifth straight game. The Bruins (8-7, 0-2 Pac-12) trailed from start to finish. Guard Bryce Alford, the Bruins’ leading scorer, was 0 for 10 from the field.
UCLA could not overcome a lifeless offensive effort against one of the better defensive teams in the Pac-12. The Bruins endured a stretch of 12 minutes spanning both halves where they managed just a single field goal.
“It’s a tough stretch and obviously we have been a little challenged offensively right now,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “The thing I appreciate is that the guys are playing hard. They are working hard, they practice hard, but at some point you’ve got four, five, or six guys that can’t make shots and their confidence gets shook. It is hard to snap out of it.”
Utah’s speed and efficient shooting overwhelmed UCLA from the start. Then the Utes’ defense finished off the Bruins by forcing a pair of prolonged scoring droughts in each half.
Forward Brekkott Chapman and Loveridge drilled back-to-back 3-pointers and Wright completed a 3-point play in a span of 54 seconds to get Utah’s first double-digit lead. Their string of baskets fueled the bulk of an 11-0 run that put Utah up 17-5 early.
UCLA trimmed into the deficit as the half progressed. The Bruins cut Utah’s lead to 21-15 on a dunk from forward Kevon Looney with 6:16 remaining before halftime. They could get no closer.
The Bruins’ offense went into hibernation over the final six minutes of the first half. UCLA missed 11 straight shots in that stretch and opened the door for Utah to pull away again.
The Utes rattled off another 11-0 run — culminating in a pair of free throws from Loveridge — to take a 32-15 lead into the locker room.
“When you play defense, it makes offense and the rest of the game really easy,” Loveridge said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do and if you do that every game, you should have a chance to win.”
Utah pushed the lead to 20 early in the second half when Wright stole the ball and dished to guard Brandon Taylor for a 3-pointer. That touched off a 14-0 spurt, ending in a layup from guard Dakarai Tucker after another Wright steal, and gave the Utes a 46-17 lead with 14:53 remaining.
UCLA scored just one field goal — a Parker layup — in the opening six minutes of the second half. The Bruins finally broke the drought when Parker converted a 3-point play and then followed with a pair of layups to make it 48-24 with 12:00 left.
“We are practicing hard, but we are
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