January 17, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

UCLA overcomes Chris Smith injury scare in win over Utah

A wretched year tried to deal UCLA one last blow late in the first half Thursday.

Chris Smith sat clutching his left knee behind the baseline inside Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins’ top scorer going down after his best shooting display of the season.

The senior guard had made all six of his shots before limping toward the locker room, sparking concerns that a season heavy with uncertainty and setbacks could somehow get worse.

But in a harbinger of possible better days ahead, Smith returned, buried a big corner three-pointer and the Bruins pulled out a 72-70 victory over Utah in their first game in nearly two weeks.

It took a late rally and a final defensive stop, UCLA guard Jules Bernard intercepting a pass right before the buzzer to make up for a previous boneheaded play in which he fouled Utah’s Alfonzo Plummer on a three-pointer with the Bruins ahead by three points and only five seconds left.

Plummer missed the first free throw and made the next two, trimming UCLA’s lead to 71-70. The Utes fouled UCLA’s Jalen Hill on the inbounds pass and he made one of two free throws with 3.9 seconds left, giving Utah a chance to tie the score or win the game before Pelle Larsson’s cross-court pass found its way into Bernard’s hands.

Smith was quiet in the second half, his three-pointer providing his only basket after halftime on the way to a team-high 16 points, but his presence alone provided a lift. He emerged from the locker room shortly before the start of the second half, riding a stationary bike and jogging around the halfcourt with a few pronounced knee lifts to test his injury.

It felt good enough for him to return.

UCLA (6-2 overall, 2-0 Pac-12 Conference) had to rally from a 60-57 deficit in the final minutes. Old-fashioned three-point plays by Bernard and Johnny Juzang in which they were fouled on layups swung the lead back in the Bruins’ favor and Smith took a pass from Bernard to make a three-pointer that gave the Bruins a 68-64 lead.

UCLA withstood an early shooting barrage from Plummer to take a 41-32 halftime lead, largely on the strength of committing only one turnover and Smith’s scoring outburst on the heels of his two worst games of the season.

Smith made all six of his shots in the opening half, including a three-pointer as part of the Bruins’ 9-0 run going into halftime. But he went down hard behind the baseline after committing a foul with 52 seconds left in the first half and held his left knee before limping toward the locker room.

It was a scary ending to an up-and-down first half in which Plummer singlehandledly outscored UCLA, 14-4, to start the game. The Bruins switched Bernard onto Plummer and the move helped hold him scoreless for the rest of the opening half after Plummer made his first five shots.

Trailing 16-4, the Bruins commenced a 14-0 run that involved zippy ball movement and tighter defense, including a Hill steal that triggered a fast-break ending in a Bernard layup providing UCLA with an 18-16 advantage. It was back and forth for the rest of the half until back-to-back three-pointers from Smith and Juzang started the Bruins’ 9-0 run going into halftime.

Plummer finished with 22 points for the Utes (4-2, 1-1), who have dropped 10 consecutive Pac-12 games on the road.