Bruins fight for a flight to N.Y.
Lots of defense. Not a lot of points.
UCLA pretty much got what it expected against a veteran Miami of Ohio team on Thursday night.
And the fourth-ranked Bruins prevailed in a somewhat familiar way, hustling, rebounding and otherwise grinding out a 64-59 victory before 7,802 at Pauley Pavilion.
“This type of game, every possession is magnified,” Coach Ben Howland said. “Every little thing makes it tough.”
The victory in this second-round game of the 2K Sports Classic tournament sends the Bruins to New York and Madison Square Garden, where they will face Michigan next Thursday night.
They won not because of their vaunted freshmen class but with clutch performances from the seniors. Guard Darren Collison and forward Josh Shipp scored 16 each. Center Alfred Aboya had six rebounds.
They won despite the play of Miami guard Michael Bramos, who scored from outside, drove the lane and otherwise tortured them all night to the tune of 22 points.
The night before the game, Miami Coach Charlie Coles had an inkling that his team was in for a struggle, saying: “It wouldn’t surprise me if UCLA makes it back to the Final Four again.”
Miami had reached the second round by defeating Weber State in large part because of guard Kenny Hayes. The 6-2 senior scored 24 points in that game, making all seven of his three-point attempts, including the winning shot with 1.7 seconds remaining.
So Howland put his senior leader, Collison, against Hayes on Thursday. Through the first 15 minutes, Hayes had no points, two fouls and a seat on the bench.
The RedHawks, forced to find their offense elsewhere, turned to Bramos, who started with five straight points on the way to 12 in the first half.
UCLA answered with Collison driving, Michael Roll shooting jump shots and Nikola Dragovic, returning from a one-game suspension, providing a spark off the bench.
Meanwhile the defense forced just enough missed shots and turnovers, and Aboya played just well enough inside, grabbing rebounds and drawing fouls.
It all added up to a 29-27 lead at halftime.
There was a lot riding on this game, UCLA needing a win for several reasons.
A victory would give them a national stage and a big television audience in New York.
It would also give them a chance to test their lofty preseason ranking against quality competition. By Thursday, Michigan had already advanced in their section of the draw, with Duke or Southern Illinois waiting in the top half.
Just as critical, a loss would have meant hanging around Westwood all next week, no games to play, subjected to practices with a coach who presumably would not have been in the best of moods.
But the RedHawks would not go away in the second half. Bramos continued his hot streak and forward Nick Winbush made a pair of three-point shots to give Miami the lead.
The Bruins forged back with a combination of defensive stops and Collison playing like a veteran, driving the lane, hitting key jump shots.
With 5:40 remaining, UCLA clung to a four-point lead.
If nothing else, the Bruins showed improvement from their rough opener when they had 24 turnovers, six each by Collison and freshman guard Jerime Anderson.
Howland warned his players they could not afford to be so sloppy against Miami, but the players did not seem too worried about cleaning things up.
“Don’t make a mistake about it, that is a very good team,” Collison said. “As soon as you turn it over, they were going to capitalize on it.”
UCLA took better care of the ball against Miami -- only seven turnovers -- but would need more than meticulousness.
The Bruins would need Collison and Shipp scoring down the stretch. They would need Hayes to miss a three-pointer as the clock ticked down.
They would need the kind of toughness that wins close games.