LOS ANGELES (ABC 4 Sports) – After losing a big lead built on dominating the inside, Utah prevailed with a long shot and an even longer pass.
“A veteran team holds its composure, no matter what,” said Brandon Taylor, who sank a 3-point shot with 15 seconds left in Utah’s 75-73 victory over UCLA on Wednesday night. The basket put the Utes up five.
After UCLA’s Thomas Welsh made a short jumper with six seconds left, Utah’s Dakarai Tucker’s length-of-the-floor pass found Kyle Kuzma behind the Bruins’ defense for an uncontested dunk that clinched the victory with three seconds remaining.
“That’s one of my favorite deep-release plays,” said Utah coach Larry Krystowiak. “We call it `Lumberjack.’ We looked to go deep. It was big. A big-time pass, too.”
Jordan Loveridge scored 17 points, Jakob Poeltl added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Kuzma added 13 points and nine rebounds as the Utes (20-7, 9-5), who let a 14-point second-half lead dwindle to two, took sole possession of third place in the Pac-12 with four games left.
“Not to cry over spilled milk but we’re not that far away from only losing two road games,” Krystowiak said. “We’d love to play the Stanford game over again, and the Oregon State game over again.”
Taylor, who played his high school basketball in Los Angeles, finished with 13 points, seven assists and did not commit a turnover in 37 minutes.
“It’s phenomenal, but I can’t get too high on this game,” said Taylor. “It was a great win for us, a great win for Utah history. That last shot? It was just one of those shots I just knew it was going to go in. It felt good when I released it.”
His coach knows homecoming games can be very challenging for players.
“It’s important for guys to not come back (home) and step outside of their normal play, try and do unusual things. It was one of Brandon’s best games overall, his floor game, his shooting, and then when combined his defense on (Bryce) Alford, it was off the charts.
Isaac Hamilton scored 25 points to lead UCLA (14-12, 5-8), which remained tied for ninth and has five games remaining. The Bruins have lost three of their last four home games.
Utah’s frontline of 7-foot-0 Poeltl, 6-9 Kuzma and 6-6 Loveridge outscored UCLA 40-24 in the paint and had a 35-31 rebounding advantage. For Poeltl, it was his 11th double-double of the season.
“Me and Jakob, we’re a great one-two,” said Kuzma. “We work well off each other. We’ve got great chemistry. It’s great to play with him. We feed off each other. Coach always says, `Pound the glass. Play in-to-out.’ That really worked for us tonight.”
UCLA rallied from a 14-point deficit to pull within 70-68, only to see Taylor and Kuzma finish things off for the Utes.
“We came out flat the first eight minutes of the second half,” said Alford. “I wish we could have had the same intensity we had when we made that run for the whole game.”