Seventh-ranked UCLA has not lost in seven-plus weeks but that does not mean coach Mick Cronin is happy.
Cronin will be looking for an improved effort when the Bruins face Utah on Thursday night in Pac-12 play at Los Angeles.
Though UCLA (14-2, 5-0 Pac-12) ran its winning streak to 11 with last Thursday’s 60-58 home win over Southern California, it wasn’t a pleasing performance from a coaching perspective.
The Bruins shot just 22.7 percent (5 of 22) from the field in the second half while blowing an 18-point halftime lead. The Trojans moved ahead with 36 seconds left before Jaylen Clark saved the day with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.8 seconds left as UCLA escaped with the win.
The Bruins finished at 34.5 percent from the field as Cronin saw the offensive prowess disappear under USC’s relentless pressure defense after the strong first half.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent. We were bricking free throws, short-arming layups,” Cronin said. “You start thinking, ‘The blowout is on. I’m going to get mine.’ … We started messing around and got exactly what we deserved. That’s what happens in sports.”
Clark finished with a team-high 15 points but was just 5 of 16 from the field. A much-improved shooter this season, he is 9 of 37 (24.3 percent) during a three-game shooting stumble.
Clark got two chances at the victory. He missed his first 3-point attempt with 19 seconds left before David Singleton collected the rebound and fed Clark at the top of the key. His second attempt, from nearly the identical spot, swished through the net.
“I shot the first one and it was a little off,” Clark said. “I normally don’t miss two in a row, so when I saw David had it, I knew it was going in in my head, before I even caught it. We put ourselves in a sticky situation, we lucked out and got out of here with a win, but it was not a performance to be proud of.”
Clark averages 14.2 points per game, second on the Bruins behind Jaime Jaquez Jr. (16.9).
UCLA will be looking to beat Utah for the sixth consecutive time.
The Utes (12-5, 5-1) are looking to bounce back from a 70-60 home loss against Oregon on Saturday.
Utah’s 5-0 start in Pac-12 play was its best since joining the conference for the 2011-12 season.
The Utes shot just 35.7 percent from the field and were 3 of 21 (14.3 percent) from 3-point range against the Ducks. The 10-point margin of defeat matches Utah’s largest of the season — it lost to Sam Houston 65-55 on Nov. 17.
Utes coach Craig Smith wasn’t thrilled after the loss as Utah trailed 27-13 after 15 minutes to set the tone for a subpar effort.
“I don’t think we were very good,” Smith said. “Some of that was Oregon, some of that was certainly self-inflicted, and I just thought we looked like we were on our heels, which they can do to you with their length and athleticism, and some of their pressing. Obviously, we didn’t get off to a great start.”
Marco Anthony had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Utes. The double-double was his second straight and seventh of his career.
Branden Carlson leads Utah with 38 blocks as well as averages of 15.7 points and 7.4 rebounds.
–Field Level Media