Utah Utes center Megan Huff (5) drives around the defense of Saint Mary's Gaels guard Stella Beck (21) as Utah hosts Saint Mary's at The Huntsman Center in Salt Lake on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.

Despite playing a close game all the way through, the University of Utah women’s basketball team (12-4 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) fell to No. 14 UCLA, 81-74 on Friday night at the Huntsman Center.

The Utes’ offense was led by Megan Huff who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Daneesha Provo continued to put in work as she was again in the starting lineup. Provo and Emily Potter both scored 16 points.

It was a gritty game and both offenses struggled early. The contest was also a defensive battle with Utah and UCLA combining for 51 free throw attempts. The Bruins had a couple players step up including freshman Michaela Onyenwere. She came into the game averaging seven points per game, but she scored 20 points, tying for the team-high. The Utes had no answer for her, especially in the first half.

“Her points were, from where I sat, second chance points,” said head coach Lynne Roberts. “I don’t know how many she had of her 20, but she had six offensive rebounds. I don’t know that she didn’t convert one of those. She was the X-factor for them, and she had a really good game.”

Roberts’ squad had trouble in the paint, which was uncharacteristic compared to the rest of its season. The usually stout paint defense wasn’t intact for much of the game. Utah also struggled from the free throw line as it finished the night 15-of-24.

“The two things that enabled us to win on the road last weekend was offensive rebounds and our free throw shooting, tonight UCLA won those two,” Roberts said. “We got to the free throw line just as much, we didn’t make, we only shot 62 percent … we got crushed on the offensive boards. That’s why they won. I think both teams played really hard.”

Utah came from behind to take the lead on a couple of occasions, but it was unable to finish possessions with offensive rebounds and unable to thwart the Bruins’ possessions with defensive rebounding.

“I think we are really calm and collected, like throughout the whole thing, everyone is always encouraging each other like ‘next play, next play, okay we got the next one’,” Huff said. “I think that’s the biggest thing is answering back, and I think a few plays we weren’t able to answer back because of the offensive rebounds.”

While Utah showed they were capable of hanging with one of the top teams in the Pac-12, the team has improvements to make, but Roberts saw potential through its efforts.

“I have a ton of confidence in my team, and I think we’re pretty dang good,” Roberts said. “UCLA, they were picked to win the Pac-12 conference for a reason. They’re just loaded with talent. I certainly thought we had a shot … we were just a couple of offensive rebounds away down the stretch there. I felt like we had a little bit of momentum and it was a one possession game, then it became two, three, four possessions.”

j.negrette@dailyutahchronicle.com

@Juannegrette87

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