Johnny Juzang would not go home with a loss.
Behind his team-high 28 points, No. 9 UCLA Men’s Basketball (12-2, 4-1 Pac-12) Utah (8-11, 1-8) and narrowly avoided its second loss in three games with a 63-58 win in Salt Lake City Thursday night. The two teams were separated by five points or less in the final 33 minutes of the game, and for much of the game Juzang was the only Bruin who could get things going from the pitch.
The first half was almost entirely Juzang, at least in terms of the Bruins attack. The team’s actual top scorer accounted for 17 of UCLA’s first 23 points. 3-pointer.
At first, it looked like Juzang’s one-man show would be enough, as the Bruins were already nine points ahead, less than four minutes into the game. The Utes opened things up by shooting 2-of-9 from the field, and without top scorer Branden Carlson, who was out with appendectomy, it looked like they couldn’t do much on offense.
Utah then flipped a switch and drilled six of their next 10 shots, half of which were three-pointers. Defensive ace Jaylen Clark and bench guard David Singleton were both unavailable for the game with illness and concussion respectively, which meant that coach Mick Cronin had to come up with a new rotation for the hostile road environment.
Guard/striker Jake Kyman came off the bench earlier than all season, and the Bruins scored 11–0 in just his first three minutes on the field. On the evening, Blue and Gold scored 28-3 in bank points, and all four reserves that played ended up negative plus-minus.
Juzang’s continued scoring ability kept UCLA at it, and guard/forward Jaime Jaquez finally got a layup to play his part. Still, in the bottom half of the first half, there were three draws and three changes of lead, and the two teams were locked in a single-possession game for the last 11:42 of the opening period.
Bernard’s three-pointer with one minute left before halftime was the first field goal by any Bruin other than Juzang or Jaquez, but striker Riley Battin answered immediately with a long own ball that got a lucky bounce and gave the Utes a 32-. 31 ahead of the half.
Battin was one of six Utah players to only hit a three-pointer in the first, despite the team coming into the game with just 7.5 triples per game.
The start of the second half was much the same, with the Utes still 3s and the two teams flip-flopping on the scoreboard. There were two more draws and two changes of lead in the first three minutes of the second frame, with Bernard continuing to add points and guard Tyger Campbell finally getting his own chance to fall.
UCLA and Utah went more than two-and-a-half minutes without hitting a field goal, missing a combined five shots during that stretch. The Bruins followed that with a run of four turnovers in under four minutes, failing to pull away and letting the Utes re-take the lead just under 12 minutes.
That was all part of a messy seven-minute stretch for UCLA with missed layups, unnecessary cross-court passes and five consecutive misses.
Guard Lazar Stefanovic hit a transition 3 to finish a 7-0 run and give the Utes the biggest lead of the night at four o’clock, which only happened because Campbell on the other side went down hard and his lower back on the ground clutched in pain, unable to return on defense.
Campbell managed to stay in the game and it was his incoming lob to Juzang a few minutes later that led to the tying midrange jumper. Striker Cody Riley, who had finally taken his first points of the night a few possessions earlier, drove a signature baseline jumper to put the Bruins back in second, before Bernard made it four by converting a pair of free throws.
It only took Utah a few possessions to jump forward, though, when guard Gabe Madsen drilled an open 3 with less than six minutes to go to put his team one ahead and force Cronin to burn a timeout.
Riley split his two free throws in the next possession to put the Utes on 3 when guard Both Gach tripled, only for Bernard to answer with one of his own seconds later. It was Campbell who gave the Bruins a two-point lead in four minutes via his pull-up jumper, after which Juzang lowered an acrobatic running floater to make it four.
Stefanovic knocked down 3 more to narrow that deficit to one, and then it was – who else – Juzang who pulled a loose ball foul and hit both free throws to give UCLA some breathing room.
Each team went 1-of-2 on their next trip to the free-throw line, and Jaquez pulled off a charge to prevent Utah from making a possible tying 3-point attempt in 30 seconds. The Utes had two more attempts to force overtime, but they both hit the brink and left Bernard score a couple of insurance free throws with a second left on the clock.
Thanks to his 8-of-10 night of the charity streak, Bernard joined Juzang as the only other UCLA player to finish in double digits at 14.
UCLA will make a short trip to Colorado and face the Buffaloes on Saturday, with that game starting at 6 p.m.
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