UCLA's dismal season hits a new low in a 46-point loss to Utah

UCLA forward Berke Buyuktuncel, left, and Utah guard Gabe Madsen, right, battle for the ball.
UCLA forward Berke Buyuktuncel, left, and Utah guard Gabe Madsen battle for the ball during the first half of the Bruins' 90-44 loss Thursday. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Even with all of its struggles, a young team prone to crummy offense and lengthy lapses, UCLA could feel good about one thing.

The Bruins had not lost a game by double figures, making them feel as if they were right there with everyone they played and possibly on the verge of a breakthrough.

That changed in demoralizing fashion here Thursday night.

With his team on the wrong end of a massive run, UCLA coach Mick Cronin shed his usually animated demeanor, pacing the sideline calmly with his hands clasped behind his back. He soon took a seat on the bench, his team about to be doubled up on the scoreboard.

There was no counter for the onslaught Utah unleashed on the way to a 90-44 victory at the Huntsman Center after the Utes turned a relatively taut game into a runaway over the final 15 minutes.

Read more: UCLA's Mick Cronin said he put his players first in blowing off reporters after Cal loss

Powered largely by offensive rebounds, Utah went on a 23-2 run and eventually led by as many as 50 points. The Bruins’ normally stout defense wilted while giving up nine three-pointers and 57 points in the second half, and their seasonlong offensive struggles showed no signs of letting up while they generated only 21 points over the final 20 minutes.

Ilane Fibleuil’s three-pointer with 1:19 left saved UCLA from the indignity of being held below 40 points.

“We got our ass kicked every way we could — coaching, playing, hustle, everything,” Cronin said after presiding over the second-worst loss in school history, trailing only the 48-point “Maples Massacre” when Stanford whipped the Bruins, 109-61, on Jan. 9, 1997. "I’ve got no positives for you as far as one guy.”

What could go down as the “Huntsman Humiliation” was worse than the recent home loss to California, given it seemed the white flag was waved about midway through the second half. Cronin said he didn’t think his players gave up, only that they were “punch-drunk” after Utah’s lead snowballed.

“I was concerned with this,” Cronin said of a situation that quickly deteriorated. “They’re punch-drunk and you’ve got to fight your way out of it.”

Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews scored nine points to lead the Bruins (6-10 overall, 1-4 Pac-12) on the way to their fourth consecutive defeat and eighth loss in nine games. Andrews and fellow guards Lazar Stefanovic and Sebastian Mack combined to make nine of 39 shots, including two of 12 three-pointers, on a night the Utes often left them open and dared them to shoot.

“If you want to win games,” Cronin said, “at some point when teams don’t guard you, you’ve got to make some shots.”

It seemed fair to question whether UCLA could win another game this season given an offense that made 31.5% of its shots, including three of 17 three-pointers, not to mention just seven of 14 free throws. Purposeful passes and movement off the ball were in short supply no matter who was on the court.

UCLA guard Lazar Stefanovic reacts after being hit during the second half of the Bruins' loss to Utah on Thursday.
UCLA guard Lazar Stefanovic reacts after being hit during the second half of the Bruins' loss to Utah on Thursday. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Guard Cole Bajema and backup center Keba Keita each scored 14 points for Utah (12-4, 3-2), which improved to 9-0 at home while notching its first victory over the Bruins here since 2019.

For the Bruins, it was a completely forgettable final trip here as members of the same conference. Utah is headed to the Big 12 next season.

“It sucks to lose a game like this,” Andrews said, “but we have to stay positive, man.”

Andrews said any turnaround starts before — and after — practice.

“Just being in the gym with the guys, getting shots up, shooting after practice, shooting even late night,” Andrews said, “really just working on our touch.”

Cronin went back to his two-bigs starting lineup, pairing Aday Mara alongside Adem Bona in an effort to combat Utah’s 7-footers. The Bruins later used a supersized lineup featuring Bona, Kenneth Nwuba and Berke Buyuktuncel, but their post players provided little defensive resistance during multiple stretches of a first half that ended with Bona and Mara on the bench with two fouls each.

“Just trying to get some scoring with Aday,” Cronin said, “but he just keeps giving up layups, so it’s hard.”

A bigger issue was that Bona finished with just four points and two rebounds after logging only three rebounds against Cal.

“We’ve got no chance if we don’t get Adem playing better,” said Cronin, whose team was bullied in the post while giving up 14 offensive rebounds for a second consecutive game.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s offense barely exceeded a point a minute. Mack was an especially egregious culprit, repeatedly driving into defenders before throwing up wild, contested layups while making just two of 13 shots and missing all six three-point attempts.

Read more: Plaschke: Disappearing Mick Cronin melts down amid another UCLA collapse

It was an icy homecoming for Stefanovic, the former Ute who was booed every time he touched the ball and even when he checked back into the game. He did little to quiet the crowd, making only three of 10 shots on the way to eight points.

After Stefanovic missed a free throw midway through the second half, Utah students chanted, “You let the whole team down!”

On a night it felt as though the Bruins gave up, he was far from the only one. Cronin said his message to his players was that nobody feels sorry for them.

“Back to the drawing board,” Cronin said before heading into the cold, snowy night in search of a new forecast for his team.

Get the best, most interesting and strangest stories of the day from the L.A. sports scene and beyond from our newsletter The Sports Report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.