UCLA hands Utah first loss in Pac 12 opener

Kennedy Burke was one of three Bruins in double figures against Utah Friday night. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Kennedy Burke was one of three Bruins in double figures against Utah Friday night. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

Los Angeles – No. 10 UCLA had no trouble dispatching Utah Friday in what was the first loss of the season for the Utes, in the Pac 12 opener for both teams.

Jordin Canada led the Bruins in the 67-56 win with 18 points, while Monique Billings added 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Kennedy Burke had 10 points. UCLA, now 10-2, have won 19 consecutive home games.

The Bruins began quickly, pushing the pace of the game and using their length and defense to stifle the Utah offense. They lead 38-24 at halftime.

The Utes picked up the pace in the third quarter, and forced the hosts into eight turnovers. Both teams ended up with 22 on the day, but UCLA was able to convert more than double the points from turnovers as was Utah. The visitors chipped away at the lead in the last period when the Bruins emptied their bench, but they couldn’t catch up.

Emily Potter had 20 points for the Utes, and Tanaeya Boclair and Erika Bean each added 10.

UCLA coach Cori Close said the key to the win was defense.

“We mixed up our defenses and kept the ball moving at our pace,” Close said. “We used our pressure to make them get out of their sets.”

Utah coach Lynne Roberts conceded that the Bruins’ preconference schedule was tougher than theirs.

“They were a little more Pac 12 ready,” Roberts said. “It took us a while before we just started playing, but I thought we were more mentally strong in the second half. In the first half, we looked like we got punched between the eyes.”

Close said UCLA players have worked to be more vocal on court this season, which has helped their play.

“It’s not in many of their natures to be vocal…..but one thing I appreciate about them is that they said, ‘it’s not my natural inclination, but my team needs that from me.'” Close said.

Next up for the Bruins is No. 20 Colorado, who were routed Friday by USC. Close said they take no other team in the conference for granted.

“They know what’s in front of them in the Pac 12,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re undefeated or 0 and something: if you win, you’re glad to get the dub.”

Billings said UCLA will be ready.

“We need to punch first and set the tone,” she said. “This is our court so we need to act like this is our house.”

The Pac 12 is stronger than ever this year, with five to seven teams in the AP top 25 poll since the beginning of the season.

“We’re just trying to win the weekend, every weekend,” Billings said.