After over 39 minutes of toe-to-toe competition against the #4 team in the country, the Huntsman Center crowd hung in suspense as Utah trailed UCLA 80-81 with 12.1 seconds left in the game. Following head coach Larry Krystkowiak's decision to take a timeout, the Utes inbounded the ball from the sideline with the Bruins having four fouls to give before being in the penalty. The Utes inbounded the ball and were quickly fouled.
Foul number four, 9.5 seconds. Inbound again, foul number five, 6.7 seconds. Inbound again, foul number five, 5.1 seconds. Foul number six occurred inside the three point line which changed the inbounds position to under the hoop, hampering Utah’s options.
This was it, and everyone knew it, five seconds left, one more play, defeat the conferences best team or go home. Lorenzo Bonam stood alone along the baseline watching his teammates try to rub free. When David Collette couldn’t seal his man under the hoop, Bonam found Kyle Kuzma flashing to the right sideline, Kuzma in the heat of the moment elected not to drive but instead launch a turnaround three point attempt.
The ball hung in the air forever as Ute fans held on to their neighbor’s sleeves in anticipation, only to watch the ball strike the far end of the cylinder and eventually being grabbed by UCLA center, Thomas Welsh.
Just like that, the Utes would fall in a great contest that encapsulated all that is good with college athletics. The Bruins would leave Salt Lake victorious, 83-82.
Utah’s Plan of Attack
When scouting the Bruins it is easy to see a complete team, a team that is explosive and efficient on the offensive side of the ball, a team that is nearly impossible to outscore. The Utah coaching staff was able to catch a small flaw in the makeup of the team and knew they could exploit it. That flaw being the Bruins’ inability to protect the rim. As talented as they are, the Bruins are not a deep team. They cannot afford to get in foul trouble. That forces UCLA to spend a lot of time in a soft zone and not contesting too many shots at the rim.
That discovery had Bonam and Devon Daniels licking their lips. This was the game for them to attack and play their aggressive style of play. Bonam set the tone for the Utes offensively starting the first five minutes with four points and two assists, contributing on nine of Utah’s first 16 points as they led the Bruins 16-14.
UCLA took advantage of a rare Utah lineup and went on a 12-1 run. When things began getting ugly Daniels did what he does best. On two consecutive plays Daniels put his head sown and drove right into the Bruin defense with two left handed finishes at the rim to stop the bleeding.
The two guards continued to exploit the Bruin defense. This game plan resulted in Utah outscoring UCLA in the paint 50-34. Bonam finished the game with 19 points, four assists and two rebounds. Daniels added 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Second Chance Bruins
Utah’s defense did an outstanding job impacting the high octane Bruin offense. The Utes held UCLA to 4.5% below their average field goal percentage, 13% below their three point percentage and held them 10 points off of their season average for a game. But that wasn’t enough because the Bruins rebounded the ball extremely well offensively and created many more opportunities to score the ball. Despite being out rebounded 35-34, UCLA grabbed 10 offensive boards leading to an impressive 23 second chance points. Thomas Welsh destroyed Utah by grabbing five offensive boards of his own. Welsh finished with 16 points on 6-7 shooting due to his easy looks.
The biggest second chance opportunity came moments after Sedrick Barefield sank a long three with 2:18 remaining giving Utah a 80-78 lead. Aaron Holiday drove the ball hard at Barefield, Holiday over shot the layup, but was quick to grab his own miss. He quickly got the ball out to Lonzo Ball then shifted over to the right elbow. Ball saw the motion from Holiday and passed the ball back to him for a dagger of a three, giving the Bruins a 81-80 lead with 1:52 remaining.
Two Costly Mistakes
Utah made two critical mistakes in the final seconds of the game. One may argue that calling the timeout when Utah had the ball down one with 12.1 seconds was a mistake. Had the timeout not been called perhaps the Bruins never think to use up all of their fouls, draining the clock, and Bonam may have found his way to the rim. However, the timeout was made, and Utah had its chances. The first mistake was the decision of Kuzma to shoot the difficult turnaround three pointer off the inbounds play instead of making a hard cut to the rim with four seconds remaining.
Despite the mishap, Utah had a slim chance at a miracle. Welsh was fouled on the rebound and was sent to the line. He made both free throws giving the Bruins a 83-80 lead with one second on the clock. Down three, Utah needed to get the ball just outside the three point line for a quick catch and shoot. Instead Kuzma threw the ball the length of the court to Bonam who was left with one option only, to shoot a short jumper, which he made at the buzzer. However two points accomplish nothing in a three point deficit.
Utah will watch film and see the many great things they did and relive the critical mistakes and inadequacies on the defensive glass. With the Utes knowing that they can literally play with anyone in the conference, the head off to an important Washington road trip. Utah will start things off on an unusual Wednesday tip in Pullman. Utah will face the 9-8 Washington State Cougars Wednesday night at 7:00 PM MT, the game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.