The delay took so long that no one knew quite what to do.
UCLA players and coaches milled about inside Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday night, waiting for the officials to decide whether the game was over. South Dakota’s Logan Power walked back toward the baseline as if he was going to inbound the ball once more with 1.5 seconds left.
Bruins students got so bored that they playfully conducted a second roll call, chanting the names of a few reserves on the bench.
Finally, after eight minutes and nearly as many trips by officials to the scorer’s table, a ruling was made. Bruins center Thomas Welsh had tipped Power’s inbounds pass before the Coyotes could get off a shot. The game was over.
Final score: UCLA 85, South Dakota 82.
The Bruins averted disaster after losing nearly all of a 24-point lead with five minutes left, their fate determined by officials and a replay monitor.
“That’s a weird situation,” said Welsh, who finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in addition to the game-saving deflection.
The Bruins prevailed after considerable embarrassment at the beginning and the end, trailing for most of the first half before withstanding an epic comeback or collapse, depending on one’s perspective.
UCLA (8-3) led 78-54 after Prince Ali took an outlet pass from Aaron Holiday for a dunk. Almost everything that the Bruins struggled with in the first half they corrected on the way to building that enormous cushion. They rebounded better, valued the basketball and finally played some defense on South Dakota guard Matt Mooney, who scored 17 of his 23 points before halftime.
Then the Bruins did almost nothing right. UCLA turned the ball over, refused to pass and took quick shots while the Coyotes (11-4) steadily chipped away at their deficit.
“What I was more upset about was when we broke the press, we didn’t eat clock,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “That’s what our guys gotta learn, it’s time and score. Why are we trying to score 10 seconds into the shot clock? We’re up 20.”
Not for long. UCLA’s lead was down to 84-82 when South Dakota’s Brandon Armstrong made a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left. The Coyotes fouled Jaylen Hands, who made one of two free throws to increase the lead to three points with 1.5 seconds left.
Power hurled the inbounds pass with one hand over a leaping Welsh toward Armstrong near the three-point line on the far end of the court. Holiday, who was defending Armstrong, knocked the ball away and the buzzer sounded before Armstrong could collect the ball to get off a shot.
Officials convened … and convened … and convened. The Bruins started an excruciating wait while watching the officials and waiting for their cue. At one point it seemed that South Dakota might be granted a do-over before officials went back to the monitor once more.
“They were just checking the monitor,” Holiday said. “I don’t know what they were looking for. They saw what happened.”
Welsh motioned with his hands while players waited for a ruling to indicate that he had tipped the ball. “I felt it right away,” he said. “I got a piece of it.”
One official finally waved his arms, signaling the game was over.
Alford said officials determined that even though the clock had started before Welsh got his hand on the ball, there was no way South Dakota could have gotten a shot off given that the ball was also knocked away near the three-point line. Officials timed the replay with a stopwatch to confirm their decision, Alford said. “I did feel like it was the right call,” Alford said.
And finally, mercifully, worth the wait.
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. PST.
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans.
TV: Channel 2.
Update: The No. 7 Wildcats (9-1) have won seven consecutive games.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch