LOS ANGELES — UCLA took more than four minutes to score a basket against Utah on Thursday night, but as soon as the Bruins broke through, the rout began.
Seventh-ranked UCLA coasted to a 68-49 victory over the Utes in a matchup between two of the Pac-12’s better teams at Pauley Pavilion, though Utah was missing leading scorer Branden Carlson, who was out with a non-COVID illness.
UCLA (15-2 overall, 6-0 Pac-12) has won 12 consecutive games and can match the program’s longest win streak since the 2016-17 season with a victory over Colorado on Saturday.
Tyger Campbell led UCLA with 17 points, going 3 for 6 from 3-point range, and UCLA coach Mick Cronin considered his performance one of the highlights.
“I was imploring him to be more aggressive,” Cronin said. “He’s been a little too passive lately.”
Campbell said he heard the pleas from his coach, and took the right shots within the offense. He said he tried to stay patient, waiting to come off the screen to shoot his 3-pointers.
“I felt like I had a good week this week,” Campbell said. “Guys were driving in and kicking it and finding me. I was just taking my time, keeping my feet set. They were going in.”
Freshman Adem Bona was everywhere in the paint for UCLA early, catching passes and dunking with his 6-foot-10 frame. Bona finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, making all five of his field goal attempts in the first half.
“I would say that was the boost we needed,” Bona said of his early scoring. “They found me. It’s a team effort. It wasn’t just me, so I think we all did it together. As the open man, I got the buckets.”
Jaime Jaquez Jr. said Bona has come a long way since his first games as a Bruin. He has gone from dropping passes and trying to get his feet right to “flourishing.”
“That’s definitely what we need him to do if we’re going to beat a great team,” Jaquez said. “I’m definitely proud of how far he’s come and all the hard work he’s put in.”
Rollie Worster led Utah (12-6, 5-2) with 12 points. UCLA held the Utes to 37% shooting, just the fourth time they have shot below 40% this season.
Cronin said the defensive effort, punctuated by 41 deflections, led to the Bruins taking over the game.
“We were able to start picking up our pressure and our defensive effort took over,” Cronin said.
UCLA, which let USC back in the game last week after building an 18-point halftime lead, did not allow the Utes to mount a second-half comeback after going up 31-22 at the break.
Jaylen Clark made sure the Bruins continued to pull away. He scored the first basket out of halftime, and later threw down a thunderous dunk in transition after a steal and a nifty fast-break feed from Jaime Jaquez Jr. to extend the lead to 38-24.
The Bruins opened a 20-point lead with five minutes left and again won despite starting guard Amari Bailey missing his fourth straight game with an ankle injury.
The Bruins shot 48% from the field, with Clark joining Campbell and Bona in double figures with 11 points.
UCLA and Utah entered the matchup as the only two Pac-12 teams with five wins, but UCLA won its sixth straight game against the Utes and improved to 6-0 in Pac-12 play. It can also match last year’s 16-2 start on Saturday.
The Bruins’ first basket didn’t come until four minutes into the game because they missed their first five shots. But UCLA began guarding full-court and rattled off 11 straight points, capped by a steal and a 3-pointer by Clark.
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“It’s hard to get into it against teams that will fast-break you,” Cronin said. “We thought they were going to try and ball-control the game. We were going to need to speed the game up.”
The game sped up, and Utah couldn’t keep up.
UCLA also out-rebounded Utah 40-26. The Bruins began beating block-outs, getting to the glass and changing the game, according to Cronin. UCLA had 14 offensive rebounds off of 31 missed shots.
“If we could add offensive rebounding – we have skill level, we have guys that can score, it would really help our offense,” Cronin said.
In a low-possession game, rebounds were valuable and helped make the difference.
“The way they were burning clock, 68 is like 88,” Cronin said.
UCLA hosts Colorado (11-7, 3-4) at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Still unbeaten in conference play
No. 7 @UCLAMBB cruises past Utah for its 12th straight win.@sproutsfm | #Pac12MBB pic.twitter.com/vRl9Zfkk8k
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) January 13, 2023