Life at the top suddenly became uncomfortable for UCLA, a team that sadly discovered there was only one way to go.
In a somber locker room Sunday, there was no levity because of the gravity of the situation. You know, what goes up, must come down.
And losing, even for the first time in 15 games, didn’t feel that great, said Ed O’Bannon.
“It’s hard to swallow,” he said. “We’re used to winning--it’s as simple as that. When you lose your first and it’s one of your biggest games, it’s hard.”
The nation’s No. 1 team lost to California, 85-70, before 15,039 at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, where the No. 1 reason why appeared to be Jason Kidd.
Out on the floor for all but three minutes, Kidd produced his fourth triple-double of the season with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists.
And so the Bruins become a statistic--the fifth No. 1-ranked team this season to be beaten. The others are North Carolina, Kansas, Arkansas and Kentucky, so at least UCLA (14-1, 7-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference) is in good company.
Kidd said it is time to move over.
“Everybody was talking about UCLA being No. 1, but I think we showed we can play with the best teams in the country,” he said.
UCLA Coach Jim Harrick took the loss in stride.
“The hardest thing in sports is to go undefeated in your conference,” Harrick said.
On Sunday for UCLA, the hardest thing in sports was stopping Kidd.
The sophomore guard was responsible for building Cal’s 15-point lead in the second half and then protecting it when O’Bannon and the Bruins came close.
The Kidd stuff was pretty inspirational for Cal. After Charles O’Bannon’s three-pointer pulled the Bruins to within 36-33, Kidd rebounded one of the rare misfires by Lamond Murray and gave the ball back to Murray for a resounding dunk.
After Murray stole the ball from Charles O’Bannon, Kidd fed Randy Duck on a breakaway.
Monty Buckley’s second three-pointer of the half gave Cal a 43-33 lead.
At the midway point, UCLA trailed, 45-35, its anti-Buckley strategy in tatters. A 17.6% three-point shooter this season going in (three for 17), Buckley was two for four in the half and finished three for seven on his way to 23 points.
It got worse, then better, then worse again for UCLA in the second half.
When Kidd stole the ball from Shon Tarver, who might have had his poorest game of the season, Cal was off and running again. Kidd found Buckley open on a breakaway, and Buckley’s layup put Cal in a 58-43 driver’s seat.
That was the signal for the Bruins to come back and pull ahead. They did it on the road against Washington State, and they did it on the road against Stanford.
But they couldn’t do it against Cal.
UCLA’s failing certainly had nothing to do with Ed O’Bannon. He finished with 24 points in 39 minutes and pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds.
“He personally brought us back,” Harrick said. “He willed us not to lose, and we just didn’t get the job done.”
O’Bannon guided UCLA on a 19-5 run over the next seven minutes with an eight-point burst, and the Bruins nearly caught up, trailing only 63-62 with 7:54 to go.
It was a rally notable for an omission. For most of that Bruin surge, Harrick benched Tarver for freshman Cameron Dollar, and it worked.
The Bruins were down only 70-68 with 4:41 to go when Cal took off for good. Two free throws by Duck, a layup by Ryan Jamison after a pass from Kidd, a missed three-pointer by Charles O’Bannon leading to a Cal fast break concluded by a Kidd layup and the Bears were quickly ahead by eight, 76-68.
After Tarver’s jump shot with 6:18 to go, the Bruins scored only one more field goal the rest of the game, on a drive by Charles O’Bannon with 27 seconds remaining.
The Bruins produced a couple of season lows--their 37.8% from the field (28 of 74) and 5.3% from the three-point line (one for 19). Also, Cal’s 85 points were the most the Bruins have given up.
“It’s just another win on the long road in the Pac-10,” said Murray, who played all 40 minutes and scored 21 points with nine rebounds.
Edney, who had nine points, seven assists, five turnovers and no steals, said the Bruins will come back. After all, he said, it’s a long season.
“It’s just one game,” he said. “They ran their stuff. They just outplayed us. Teams are still going to come after us, no matter if we’re No. 1 or No. 5.”
And as far as saying goodby to No. 1, well, it isn’t as if it’s the first time anyone has had to do that this season.
“It’s a pretty big deal, I guess,” Edney said. “We were proud of our ranking, but we also understood all the things that came along with it. We knew it was going to be that much more difficult winning games.”
Meanwhile, Cal is feeling pretty good about itself, even though starters Alfred Grigsby and K.J. Roberts are injured. If those two were around, Murray knows where Cal would be ranked.
“We’d be No. 1 right now, no doubt about it,” he said.
And they might have had their week at the top, too. The Bruins would tell them.