LOS ANGELES — As part of its continuing tribute to the late legendary coach John Wooden, UCLA is honoring the former Bruins' men's basketball coach's Pyramid of Success as a symbol of wisdom and inspiration.
For visiting UC Irvine, however, Wooden's philosophical creation symbolized an uphill climb that eventually proved to be too steep Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.
The Anteaters continually closed within striking distance of the upset, and had its best chance after rebounding the second of two missed free throws with six seconds left and trailing, 74-73.
But senior point guard Patrick Rembert was trapped along the sideline in front of his own bench on UCI's subsequent possession and his pass to Chris McNealy near the baseline was too late for McNealy to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
UCLA's 74-73 triumph upped its record to 8-4 and prompted a sigh of relief from many of the 6,830 in attendance.
UCI (6-6) had six possessions with a strong chance to score before the final fateful sequence. But each time, either a turnover or a missed shot, including four contested shots inside four feet, failed to enhance the 'Eaters' opportunity to top the Bruins for the third time in their eight meetings.
Trailing, 68-63, with 5:18 left, McNealy had a bounce pass stolen to thwart one UCI possession.
Down, 72-67, UCI's Eric Wise missed a driving layup around a defender with 1:09 remaining.
UCLA, which missed eight of 10 free throws in the final 5:26 to avoid sealing the deal, had two misses from the foul line by Jeremi Anderson with 51 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Rembert drained a driving layup while being fouled and added the free throw to pull the visitors within two with 39 ticks on the clock.
After a UCLA free throw, Wise, who had a team-high 16 points, missed another shot in the lane and UCLA converted one of two free throws on the ensuing possession.
Senior Darren Moore banked in a three-pointer on which he appeared to be fouled with seven seconds left and the Bruins' two ensuing missed foul shots gave UCI its final chance.
"The places where we tried to go, we went," UCI Coach Russell Turner said of his team's offensive execution down the stretch. "We didn't convert them all, which you're never going to do against a bigger team. But I told my guys I think we've got a chance to be good if we can build on what we've done. We're not good yet, but we've got a chance.
"I had some good performances. We didn't make enough plays to win, but we came close. I'm proud of the guys."
Wise, who fouled out with 14 seconds left, had a team-best 10 rebounds, while Pavol Losonsky matched his career high with 15 points.
Moore finished with 14 points and sophomore Mike Wilder was three of five from three-point range on his way to 10 points.
Rembert, who was victimized by a third of UCLA's nine blocked shots, had nine points, six assists and four steals.
The Bruins used a 16-2 run early in the first half to take control and led, 39-29, at halftime.
UCLA had 17 turnovers and finished 26 of 54 from the field (48.1%), including 10 of 20 from threedom.
UCI, which had just 11 turnovers, was 29 for 65 from the field (44.6), including 18 of 32 after intermission.
"This game will haunt us to lose, because we're competitors," Turner said. "But this is not going to be the game that keeps us out of the NCAA Tournament.
"It will haunt us if we have everybody congratulate us and that causes us to lose our edge. We've got to know we're a team that is close to being good, but also close to being bad if we don't play all-out."
Malcolm Lee and Lazeric Jones led the Bruins with 20 points each, while 6-foot-10, 305-pound freshman center Joshua Smith had 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
UCLA 74, UC Irvine 73
UCI – Wise 16, Losonsky 15, Moore 14, Rembert 9, Starring, 4, Wilder 10, McNealy 3, Simek 2.
3-pt. goals – Wilder 3, Moore 2, McNealy 1.
Fouled out –Wise.
Technicals – None.
UCLA – Lane 3, Smith 14, Lee 20, Jones 20, Lamb 6, Nelson 8, Anderson 3.
3-pt. goals – Lee 4, Jones 4, Lamb 1, Anderson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – UCLA, 39-29.