UCLA guard Jordan Adams (3) has his drive cut off by Utah guard Delon Wright… (George Frey / Associated…)
SALT LAKE CITY — Steve Alford is unlikely to plan a Utah family vacation any time in the near future. The UCLA coach has not enjoyed his last two visits.
His final game as New Mexico's coach was the third-seeded Lobos' loss to Harvard in Salt Lake City in the NCAA tournament last spring. His return as UCLA's coach was an oh-what-might-have-been moment: a 74-69 loss to Utah on Saturday.
UCLA (14-4 overall, 3-2 in Pac-12 Conference play) was flat-footed at the start. By the time the No. 25 Bruins' effort arrived at the Huntsman Center, they were buried too deep.
"We really weren't running our offense and we were being lazy on defense," UCLA guard Zach LaVine said. "We came here and took them lightly and they smacked us in the face."
The Bruins did put in some hard work — for nine minutes. They first cut a 15-point deficit to four at 60-56 with six minutes left and then made it a one-possession game with 22 seconds left. All it got them was a deceiving box score after the Utes (13-5, 3-3) made three of four free throws.
The loss threw the Bruins back into the Pac-12 pack and took the luster off a trip that started with a victory over Colorado on Thursday.
"We got a split, but we came here for the sweep," Alford said.
Road sweeps are hard to come by in the Pac-12. Only Arizona and California have put together back-to-back conference victories away from home this season.
But the Bruins expected more after winning in Colorado.
"It not a step in the right direction," Anderson said. "When you win that first one, you're supposed to have a lot of momentum. We came out completely opposite of that as a team."
The finish was strong, with the Bruins' push getting them within a bucket, 71-69, with 22 seconds left. But they paid for earlier transgressions.
All the big finish did was leave Alford frustrated, wondering where that effort was at the start.
"Yeah, as a coach, that's what you end up doing," Alford said. "Our offensive execution wasn't good on this road trip. I didn't like it in Colorado. I don't think when I watch the tape that I will like it here."
It reached 38 degrees outside Saturday. The Bruins managed to push their field-goal percentage above that at the end, shooting 43%.
UCLA entered conference play second in the nation, shooting 52%. This was the Bruins' fourth consecutive game under 50%.
Anderson did his best to make this placebo go down smoothly. He finished with a career-high 28 points, making 10 of 16 shots. He was five for five in three-point shots.
He received little help. Jordan Adams, the Bruins' leading scorer, did not have a point at halftime, spending eight minutes on the bench in foul trouble. UCLA prides itself on up-tempo play, but had only five points in transition.
"We got real stagnant," Alford said.
The Bruins were thoroughly outplayed in the first half and were down only 36-26 because the Utes missed a handful of layups. It was the largest halftime deficit this season for UCLA.
A 15-0 run gave the Utes a 30-18 lead.
The difference in effort in the first half was seen on two plays. Utah's Princeton Onwas sank a three-pointer and, on the inbounds pass, did a belly slide to force a turnover. Moments later, Delon Wright went baseline to baseline to turn a rebound in a layup.
Utah extended that lead to 60-45 before the Bruins punched the clock for work.
"We were dazed until the last nine minutes," LaVine said. "It was like we weren't really here. The only thing we can do is learn from it and get back on the horse."