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Feb 17, 2024 5:03 pm

Surging UCLA better equipped for rematch with Utah

UCLA, Utah

UCLA is on a much different trajectory when it hosts Utah on Sunday in Pac-12 play in Los Angeles compared to the teams’ last meeting, which resulted in the Bruins’ worst loss in 27 years.

The Utes (15-10, 6-8 Pac-12) destroyed UCLA on Jan. 11, 90-44, with a 57-21 second half. The loss sent the Bruins to their eighth loss in nine games.

UCLA (14-11, 9-5) flipped its course immediately and ever since, winning eight of nine and the last six straight after a 64-60 defeat of Colorado on Thursday.

“We don’t ever talk about it,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said of the Utah game after the Bruins’ win over Colorado. “It’s one game, just move on and get better. … Slowly, incrementally, getting our confidence; we needed that win against Washington (on Jan. 14 to begin the current stretch).”

Central to UCLA’s turnaround has been Dylan Andrews. Andrews has emerged as a reliable scoring option alongside season-long leading scorer Sebastian Mack in the Bruins backcourt.

Andrews’ 13 points on Thursday gives him double-figures scoring in every game of UCLA’s on-going winning streak. With his 19 points against Colorado, Mack improved his output to 13.5 points per game.

Utah did not allow any Bruin to reach double-figures scoring in the last meeting. However, the Utes have sputtered to a 3-6 mark since that meeting, including a skid of three straight after a 68-64 loss on Thursday at Southern California.

Utah had a chance to force overtime when it was trailing by two but USC’s Joshua Morgan blocked Deivon Smith’s tying layup attempt with six seconds.

Utah has allowed 68 points or more in eight of its last nine games, and an average of 72.5 points per game in those eight. The high of 105 points came in a triple-overtime loss to Arizona, but the Utes still allowed 76 at the end of regulation.

“We’ve got to stay together, we’ve got to keep fighting because we’re right there,” Utah coach Craig Smith told the Deseret News following Thursday’s loss to open the Utes’ Los Angeles road swing. “If it’s the other way around, we’ve got a lot of momentum to finish the season, but we don’t and so we’ve got to find away against a very good UCLA team.”

The Utes are 0-6 in Pac-12 road play this season.

–Field Level Media

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