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February 15, 2014

UCLA cruises to win over Utah at home

UCLA exacted its revenge against Utah, which defeated the Bruins in January, by routing the Utes in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon with a dazzling effort from Jordan Adams.

Utah entered the game as one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12, winning its last three conference games; its longest conference winning streak since joining the Pac-12 in the 2011-12 season.

However, UCLA had payback on the mind after the Utes upset the Bruins in Salt Lake City, a loss that prevented UCLA from entering a first-place tie with Arizona with Saturday's win.

Utah jumped out to an early lead in the follow-up matchup with a couple of three-pointers from Dakarai Taylor and Brandon Taylor on consecutive possessions.

The Utes' hot shooting came to an abrupt halt, though, as they didn't record a field-goal for 4:35 after Taylor's three. That, combined with three consecutive turnovers for Utah, allowed UCLA to swipe the lead from the Utes.

The Bruins went on to carry the lead for the majority of the first half until Utah mustered up five consecutive points to tie the game at 23 with 4:42 remaining in the half.

However, Adams ensured the Bruins held on to the lead by making consecutive threes, the latter of which he knocked down in transition. Adams scored a game-high 12 points in the first half.

"Coach just told me to stay aggressive," he said. "Before I left the locker room he told me, 'Just keep moving and the ball will find you.'"

"He got going early," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said of Adams. "He did a good job of moving without the basketball. Sometimes he gets in a hurry 'cause he wants to do so well. That's what you love about Jordan. ... I thought he got in good rhythm tonight. ... He just took good shots."

Unfortunately for Utah, Adams didn't cool off during the halftime break.

Coming out of the locker room, the sophomore guard nailed a jumper that sent the Bruins on a 12-0 run to start the second half that cushioned their lead to double digits.

That spurt was the prelude to yet another spectacular second half from UCLA. The Bruins racked up 47 points in the second period, cruising to an 80-66 victory over Utah, shooting 53.4 percent (31-for-58) from the field and 53.8 percent (7-for-13) from beyond the arc.

Alternatively, Utah, which entered Saturday's game shooting a Pac-12 best 50.2 percent from the field (3rd in the nation), was held to 42.3 percent shooting, the Utes' worst effort since their January matchup (40.4%) against current Pac-12 king Arizona.

Adams finished with a game-high 24 points, a new Pac-12 regular-season high for the Bruins' leading scorer and his 20th career 20-point game and ninth of the season.

He was also 3-for-3 from downtown, his first perfect effort from beyond the arc when he's taken more than one three-point attempt in his two-year career at UCLA.

"When Jordan's making shots, it's so easy to find him 'cause he cuts so well, but it also makes the defense cheat over to him and that frees up a lot of other guys, too," said Kyle Anderson, who notched his 14th double-double of the season with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists.

Although Adams has remained the Bruins' leading scorer for the duration of the season, getting the ball to fall through the hoop hasn't been as easy for him during conference play.

After scoring 21 points on 8-for-13 in UCLA's conference opener against USC, Adams shot 36.2 percent in the Bruins' subsequent 10 games.

However, his coaches and teammates maintain they've never doubted Adams and instead have been focused on finding him better looks.

"Not one time have we told Jordan Adams not to shoot the basketball. That's his role," Alford said. "That's a good environment to be in when you've got a staff and teammates that are really pulling for you and trying to find different ways of getting you better shots to get going."

That supportive environment may have been just what Adams needed to produce his best shooting night in two months (10-for-14: 71.4%).

"After I have a bad shooting night, I just put it behind me. I tried to focus on this game," the 6-foot-5 guard said. "They beat us earlier in the year so I was really focused on getting payback."

In addition to his offensive efforts, Adams swiped a quartet of steals during the game, which boosts his season total to 73, already tying his tally from last season, which slotted him fifth in UCLA history in single-season steals.

The Bruins hope that Adams' hot hand on both ends of the court continues as they pack up and hit the road once again, this time to the Bay Area to face California and Stanford, respectively.

"This is a very difficult road trip," Alford said. "We got a lot of work ahead of us on Monday and Tuesday before we get on that, but we've set ourselves up very nicely, and I appreciate the efforts of the guys."


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