February 29, 2024

Even with all of its struggles, a young team prone to crummy offense and lengthy lapses, UCLA could feel good about one thing.

The Bruins had not lost a game by double figures, making them feel as if they were right there with everyone they played and possibly on the verge of a breakthrough.

That changed in demoralizing fashion here Thursday night.

With his team on the wrong end of a massive run, UCLA coach Mick Cronin shed his usually animated demeanor, pacing the sideline calmly with his hands clasped behind his back. He soon took a seat on the bench, his team about to be doubled up on the scoreboard.

There was no counter for the onslaught Utah unleashed on the way to a 90-44 victory at the Huntsman Center after the Utes turned a relatively taut game into a runaway over the final 15 minutes.

Powered largely by offensive rebounds, Utah went on a 23-2 run and eventually led by as many as 50 points. The Bruins’ normally stout defense wilted while giving up 57 points in the second half and their season-long offensive struggles showed no signs of letting up while generating only 21 points over the final 20 minutes.

Ilane Fibleuil’s three-pointer with 1:19 left saved UCLA from the indignity of being held below 40 points.

It was worse than the recent home loss to California given it seemed the white flag was waved about midway through the second half.

Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews scored nine points to lead the Bruins (6-10 overall, 1-4 Pac-12) on the way to their fourth consecutive defeat and eighth loss in nine games.

It seemed fair to question whether UCLA could win another game this season given an offense that made 31.5% of its shots, including three of 17 three-pointers, not to mention just seven of 14 free throws. Purposeful passes and movement off the ball were in short supply no matter who was on the court.

Guard Cole Bajeman and center Keba Keita each scored 14 points for Utah (12-4, 3-2), which improved to 9-0 at home this season while notching its first victory over the Bruins here since 2019.

For the Bruins, it was a completely forgettable final trip here as members of the same conference as Utah, which is headed to the Big 12 next season.

Cronin went back to his two-bigs starting lineup, pairing Aday Mara alongside Adem Bona, in an effort to counter Utah’s dual 7-footers. The Bruins later used a supersized lineup featuring Bona, Kenneth Nwuba and Berke Buyuktuncel, but their post players provided little defensive resistance during multiple stretches of a first half that ended with Bona and Mara on the bench with two fouls each.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s offense barely exceeded a point a minute. Freshman guard Sebastian Mack was an especially egregious culprit, repeatedly driving into defenders before throwing up wild contested layups while making just two of 13 shots and missing all six three-point attempts.

It was an icy homecoming for UCLA’s Lazar Stefanovic, the former Ute who was booed every time he touched the ball and even when he checked back into the game. He did little to quiet the crowd, making only three of 10 shots on the way to eight points.

After Stefanovic missed a free throw midway through the second half, Utah students chanted, “You let the whole team down!”

On a night it felt as though the Bruins gave up, he was far from the only one.

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