LOS ANGELES (AP) — In need of a signature win to bolster a sagging NCAA tournament resume, UCLA looked for leadership from its lone senior starter.
Norman Powell didn’t disappoint.
Powell scored 23 points and the Bruins defeated No. 11 Utah 69-59 on Thursday night for their first victory over a Top 25 opponent this season.
“He’s a senior and he made a lot of big plays for us,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “As a senior when you get that kind of leadership, other guys follow.”
Bryce Alford had 14 points and seven assists, and Isaac Hamilton added 11 points for the Bruins (12-9, 3-5 Pac-12).
“It was really big for us,” Powell said. “We’ve had some tough losses … and we really focused in the three days of practice leading into this. The losses versus ranked opponents, we weren’t talking or moving the ball, and today we saw improvement in that.”
The Bruins held a 33-30 halftime advantage and led the entire second half.
Delon Wright scored 15 points and Brandon Taylor had 14 for the Utes (16-4, 6-2), who have not beaten UCLA in Los Angeles since 1961.
“I thought they played harder than us,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We really had only about a 5-minute stretch where we played hard enough.”
The Bruins committed just six turnovers and outscored Utah 34-26 in the paint. They also had eight steals and forced 14 turnovers.
Utah beat UCLA 71-39 the first time the teams met this season on Jan. 4 in Salt Lake City. The Bruins are 10-1 at home and 2-8 in road and neutral-site games.
“It was really embarrassing what happened the last time we played them,” Powell said. “We were itching to get back at them.”
UCLA held its halftime lead after a back-and-forth first period that featured four lead changes and five ties. Powell scored 12 points in the half as the Bruins shot 15 of 31 (48.4 percent) from the field.
The Bruins pulled away in the second half. UCLA opened on a 12-0 run, with eight points by Powell, and didn’t allow Utah to score until the 12:38 mark.
“They outscrapped us and we made it hard on ourselves,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re not the kind of team that can just show up. It just wasn’t good.”
Taylor ended the Utes’ skid with a 3-pointer from the right wing and followed with a steal and layup to make it 45-35 UCLA with 11:02 to go, but Hamilton responded with eight consecutive points to lead a Bruins spurt and give them a 56-41 lead with 7:30 left.
Taylor led another Utes rally and nailed his third 3-pointer of the half to cut the deficit to 62-55 with 2:58 remaining, but UCLA hit seven of its final 10 free throws to ice it.
“It was a tremendous team effort,” Steve Alford said. “We got to the free throw line. Most guys got baskets. I thought it was a team effort of really trusting one another.”
Utah: The Utes shot 23 of 47 (49 percent) from the field and got 18 points from their bench. … Utah was 7 of 22 on 3-point attempts. … Wright and Taylor, two of the Utes’ top three scorers, are from Los Angeles.
UCLA: The Bruins improved to 8-6 against Utah. … UCLA lost all its previous games against Top 25 opponents this season by at least 13 points. … Sophomore walk-on guard Jerrold Smith was added to the roster before the game.
Utah visits Southern California on Sunday.
UCLA hosts Colorado on Saturday.
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