Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 1/27/12
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA center Joshua Smith was in a funk after the Bruins returned from Oregon last weekend. While many griped about his conditioning, or lack thereof, his battle was much worse. Smith battled himself. Similar to how he responded after UCLA was swept in the Bay Area to start the Pac-12 portion of their season, Smith went to work. He practiced and practiced hard. When the Bruins returned home to the Sports Arena on Thursday night after a month-long hiatus, Smith showed Utah just how hard he practiced in a 76-49 win for UCLA (11-9, 4-4 Pac-12) over the Utes (5-15, 2-6). "He had a little bit of fire under him. He was moving out there really well," said Jerime Anderson, who finished with 13 points. Smith set the tone early. On the Bruins' first possession after he entered the game with 15:01 left in the first half, he was fouled and knocked down both shots from the line. He made his first field goal attempt and was active on defense trying to take a charge against a Utah guard on the perimeter. He was called for a block, but showed the effort that was lacking in previous games. Smith led all scorers in the first half with nine points and knocked down three of four shots. His production, along with Travis Wear's two first half fouls, led UCLA head coach Ben Howland to start him in the second half. After halftime, Smith was the same Smith. He finished with a game high 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting. He was determined to bounce back after being disappointed with his performance last weekend at Oregon. "I know when I play bad. I'm not the guy that's going to make excuses. Last week, when we were in Oregon, what happened, happened we lost both games," Smith said. "We knew this was a big week for us to get above .500 (in conference) after we play Colorado, which is a very good team. "(I) was just giving more effort Coach just told us no matter what it is when we go out there, you got to play as hard as you can. If that's playing defense, if that's cheering, if that's blocking out, whatever you do, you got to give it your all, and that's really what I was trying to do." Utah had a tough time dealing with Smith on Thursday night, but even more impressive than Smith was the Bruins defense. They were in passing lanes, got deflections and were resilient in their on-ball pressure, holding the Utes to just 37 percent from the field. At halftime, Anderson obliged his teammates not to allow the same thing to happen Thursday that plagued them in Oregon when they blew a 13-point halftime lead. It worked. The Bruins kept up the defensive pressure. UCLA led 36-21 at halftime and nearly doubled that output in the second half. "Their defense was really good. We thought we were going to beat them with one-on-one moves that we don't possess," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "It's one of the first times that I thought, offensively, we didn't play hard and we didn't play together, and I thought that crept into their run." From the 6:35 mark of the first half until just over seven minutes to play in the game, the Bruins went on a 42-17 run. "I just think that our team played inspired tonight," Anderson said. "Coming off the weekend that we had in Oregon, we had to bounce back When our back is against the wall, I think that our team has a lot of heart, and we can show it if we just go out there and play hard and really have the intensity that we're supposed to have." The Bruins will return to Sports Arena on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. to host Colorado on Prime Ticket. The Buffaloes (14-6, 6-2 Pac-12), who are tied for the lead in the conference, were a 74-50 winner at USC on Thursday.
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