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February 15, 2014

UCLA seeking revenge at Pauley

For the first time in conference play, UCLA will play a team that beat the Bruins in their first matchup.

On Saturday afternoon, the Bruins take on Utah, which defeated them in Salt Lake City in January, a Pac-12 loss that is proving even more costly with Friday night's Pac-12 happenings.

Arizona State upset the first-place Arizona Wildcats in a double-overtime thriller on Friday, which gives UCLA a chance to inch within one game of first place with a win on Saturday.

Had the Bruins defeated the Utes in January, they would've had the chance to be tied for the top spot in the conference with a win.

Instead, UCLA came up short to Utah in Salt Lake City, 74-69, never overcoming a 10-point deficit despite a career-high 28 points from point guard Kyle Anderson on 10-for-16 from the field, including an immaculate 5-of-5 from beyond the arc.

The remainder of the Bruins' squad shot 36.2 percent from the field that game and five of UCLA's eight players in the usual rotation scored five or fewer points.

Utah, conversely, had its offense running on all cylinders. Six of the Utes' players scored eight or more points, four of whom finished in double figures.

The offensive charge was led by Utah's top scorers - Jordan Loveridge (17 pts.), Brandon Taylor (12 pts.) and Delon Wright (12 pts.) - who accounted for more than 50 percent of the Utes' points, which is what they've been doing all season.

"They've got a lot of good players," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. "Taylor got away from us a little bit. I thought Loveridge is somebody that can really provide a lot punch for 'em because he shoots the ball so well and he's a great rebounder.

"I think it starts with Loveridge and Wright, and you better be able to control the ball that Taylor's handling all the time. ... I just like this group. They're well-coached and they play extremely hard."

While it was the Utes' collective effort that overwhelmed the Bruins, who were held to 42.9 percent shooting, it was Loveridge who kept the Bruins at bay in the second half.

As UCLA wrestled to slim the margin, the versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore forward scored eight points in three minutes to extend Utah's lead to 17 with 12:50 to play.

"He's an outstanding player, for one," Alford said of Loveridge. "He can do a lot of things. He's very difficult to play against because of his athleticism and his ability to drive the basketball. I just like his energy. ... He does a lot for them."

However, it was Loveridge, too, that nearly cost Utah the game.

With four minutes left in the contest, Loveridge made three turnovers on as many consecutive Utes possessions in the span of 36 seconds that allowed UCLA to cut the lead to six with three minutes remaining.

Later, he committed an ill-advised foul with 20 seconds left in the game and the Utes up by four that allowed the Bruins to make one final spurt.

No such spurt came to fruition, as Kyle Anderson turned the ball over on UCLA's ensuing possession, letting a comeback slip out of the Bruins' grasp.

That shortcoming dropped UCLA from the national rankings, which it will almost certainly return to with a win against Utah on Saturday.

Nonetheless, the Bruins aren't so much concerned with regaining a ranking as they are making up ground in the conference race that they lost with a disappointing defeat in Salt Lake City.

On Saturday afternoon, UCLA has another vital opportunity to do so on its home floor.


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