The boos were gone. The 18-point deficit was too.
The seconds ticked down. Washington’s Andrew Andrews rubbed around a ball screen. Forward Tony Parker switched to guard him. Andrews jabbed then pulled back. Parker left his feet. Andrews leaned in. The whistle blew with 3.4 seconds left.
Andrews made both free throws, and Washington won, 86-84, dashing a furious comeback by UCLA that nearly erased the memory of a disastrous first half at Pauley Pavilion.
Nearly. As well as UCLA (12-9, 3-5 Pac-12) played down the stretch, it had dug itself too big a hole in the first half.
“I take full responsibility because we obviously weren’t ready to play,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “And that falls on my shoulders.”
Guard Bryce Alford said the loss was “just hard, man,” because the Bruins had come painfully close.
In the teams’ first meeting this month, Alford had made last-minute shots in the end of regulation and overtime. He took over again Thursday. It began with about six minutes left.
Alford dribbled, then stepped back and launched a three-pointer. Good. Four-point game.
The crowd stood.
He made a layup. Two-point game.
He converted another three-point play. One-point game.
With 3:26 remaining, he muscled in a basket from the paint. Tie score.
Eighty seconds later, Alford drilled a three-pointer. UCLA had its first lead of the game, 82-79.
He scored 17 of the Bruins’ final 19 points. He assisted on the only other basket. He scored a game-high 28 points, 22 in the second half.
“I should’ve been that way from the jump,” he said.
Andrews, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, was limited to 12 points with eight assists, but six Washington players scored in double figures.
The first half was perhaps the worst UCLA has looked all season. With seven minutes left before halftime, UCLA had 13 points and nine turnovers. By halftime, it trailed, 51-33.
The crowd booed lustily.
“It looked like we had several guys not into the game and not ready to play,” Steve Alford said. “And again, that falls to me.”
The problem has plagued the Bruins all season. They have collected several impressive wins. Then they have disappeared.
UCLA hasn’t figured it out.
“It’s two hours out of the day,” Bryce Alford said. “We just haven’t had the emotion we needed.”
Earlier in the week, Steve Alford noted that a loss this week would put UCLA in a perilous position. Once safely within the NCAA tournament field, the Bruins are teetering on the bubble for the second season in a row.
After the game, Steve Alford said he would reconsider UCLA’s two-big lineup. Parker scored 16 points with nine rebounds. Center Thomas Welsh had two points and four rebounds. Reserve Jonah Bolden played 26 minutes.
“I’m starting to feel comfortable out there,” Bolden said.
Steve Alford said the big lineup is “not working. We’re slow.”
But he said Parker had no choice but to switch on the final possession. UCLA, he said, didn’t have a chance to switch offense and defense each possession, as it prefers.
After Andrews’ free throws, at the buzzer, Isaac Hamilton’s shot from the corner hit the back rim.
The loss, Steve Alford said afterward, wasn’t Parker’s fault. The bad switch wasn’t to blame. It was the first half.
Washington (14-6, 6-2) is first in the Pac-12. UCLA was at home. How was it not ready to play?
“That’s a good question,” Bryce Alford said. “I’m not really sure.”