A year ago, UCLA probably would have lost a game such as the one it played Saturday against DePaul.
On the road, trailing by 11 points in the second half and with several players in foul trouble, the Bruins probably would have collapsed in the stretch and walked away defeated and disappointed.
But these Bruins, a team with more depth, discipline and confidence, rallied to beat the Blue Demons, 92-90, on a pair of free throws by junior guard Darrick Martin with 4.6 seconds left.
“This is a more mature team with a lot of character,” Coach Jim Harrick said. “We grew a lot today. You can’t measure what a win like this might do for you down the road in February and March.”
Even if it does nothing, it had to be gratifying.
In front of a crowd of 10,254 at the Rosemont Horizon, the Bruins withstood a 40-point effort by DePaul forward David Booth, running their record to 7-0 for their best start since the 1974-75 season, when they won their first 12 games en route to the last of their 10 NCAA championships.
Sophomore forward Tracy Murray led UCLA with a career-high 31 points, but of equal importance to the sixth-ranked Bruins was the all-round play of reserve guard Shon Tarver and reserve forward Keith Owens.
Tarver and Owens sparked the Bruins as they rallied from a 68-57 deficit to outscore DePaul, 35-22, in the last 14 minutes.
A 17-6 run by UCLA, which enabled the Bruins to catch the Blue Demons at 74-74 with nine minutes left, included nine points by Tarver, the ever-blossoming freshman from Santa Clara High in Oxnard, and six by Owens, a senior and former walk-on who led UCLA with 11 rebounds.
Murray and Booth then exchanged baskets for several minutes before Harrick switched to a box-and-one defense against Booth and the junior gunner fell silent, failing to score in the last six minutes.
“I thought 40 (points) was enough,” Harrick said, laughing.
A three-point shot by reserve guard Brad Niemann with 3:27 left and a free throw by guard Melvon Foster with 3:09 left gave DePaul an 88-85 lead, but UCLA outscored the Blue Demons the rest of the way, 7-2.
Murray’s three-point bomb from the right wing pulled the Bruins even with 1:46 left. Then, after a pass from forward Stephen Howard sailed through the hands of Niemann and out of bounds, Owens made two free throws with 1:03 remaining to give UCLA the lead, 90-88.
After a jump shot by DePaul’s Terry Davis again tied the score with 52 seconds left, UCLA tried to set up a shot by Murray. Howard, though, deflected Murray’s shot from the left wing and the ball was up for grabs.
Unable to control it, Owens deflected it toward the top of the key to Martin, who quickly put up a shot and was fouled by Howard.
Martin stepped to the line and made two free throws.
“I was kind of watching Tracy’s shot, thinking it was going to go in, but it got blocked and bounced out,” Martin said. “I just went and got it and put it up as quickly as possible because I thought there were only about two seconds left.”
With 4.6 seconds to play, DePaul had time to score.
The Blue Demons brought the ball in to Booth, who quickly dribbled it across midcourt against Tarver’s defense and put up a running, off-balance three-point shot that wasn’t close, glancing off the bottom of the rim.
“A loss like that is tough to take,” said DePaul Coach Joey Meyer, whose team was 4-0 and on the verge of moving into the top 25 in the Associated Press poll before collapsing in the second half and losing at Louisville Wednesday night, 94-75. “UCLA’s a great team and they rose up to make the big plays, but I have no complaints against our team.
“Whatever we didn’t have Wednesday night, we had today. We played really hard against a very talented basketball team.”
But it wasn’t enough.
Tracy Murray, who made 12 of 21 shots after working in practice last week with assistant coach Brad Holland, said: “Every shot I took in warmups was a brick.” . . . DePaul Coach Joey Meyer, asked if David Booth was as effective against previous opponents: “Obviously, if he was, he’d be averaging 40 points. But he’s had those nights. He has those capabilities. When he gets hot, there isn’t really anybody who can stop him.” Booth, who made 14 of 23 shots, increased his average to 22.3 points a game. He took only two shots in the last six minutes, missing both.
UCLA hadn’t given up more points to an individual since March 14, 1987, when Fennis Dembo of Wyoming scored 41 against the Bruins in an NCAA tournament game. . . . Meyer, on the Bruins: “They keep coming in with better players.” . . . Citing the play of Keith Owens, who had eight points, 11 rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal, almost all of them during the Bruins’ decisive run, Meyer said: “He was the difference. I knew he was a pretty good player. I didn’t know he was that good.”
UCLA’s Don MacLean, who needed four stitches to close a cut over his right eye that was opened in a second-half collision, scored 18 points, making eight of 13 shots. It was the first time this season that he was held to less than 20 points. He needs 20 to move past Sidney Wicks and into 10th place on the Bruins’ all-time scoring list.
Shon Tarver made six of nine shots and had 13 points, five assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes. . . . UCLA overcame 60% free-throw shooting, its worst of the season. The Bruins were only 15 of 25 from the line, but they made their last six.
UCLA is 50-21 in more than two seasons under Coach Jim Harrick, but only 14-13 on the road, including an 80-67 victory last month over a Division II opponent, Alaska Anchorage. . . . UCLA’s Rodney Zimmerman and Chris Kenny collided in practice last week, with Zimmerman needing seven stitches to close a cut over his left eye. Kenny suffered a mild concussion.