It was an “almost” kind of basketball game for UCLA on Thursday night at Maples Pavilion.
The Bruins would almost get a rebound. And then a Stanford player would tip it away. The Bruins would make a steal and almost get a layup. Except the ball would rim out or get blocked. The Bruins would almost get a lead. But never in the second half.
In the Pac-12 season opener for both teams, Stanford beat UCLA, 60-59.
The Cardinal (11-2, 1-0 Pac-12) gave itself just enough of an edge by piercing UCLA’s work-in-progress zone defense with three straight three-pointers and a 56-51 lead with about five minutes left.
Until then, UCLA (7-6, 0-1) had hung close because of senior Lazeric Jones, who had a game-high 26 points, mostly from jump shooting, and from the work of center Josh Smith, who had 10 points in 20 minutes. But Smith was often on the bench with foul trouble.
“This was a disappointing finish to a game where we fought back hard,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
There were at least a half a dozen times in the second half when UCLA had a chance to take a lead, but always there was a shot an inch short or a missed free throw or a turnover.
Still, the Bruins were within a point, 56-55, with 2:07 left. Jones, who had just missed a free throw that would have tied the score, committed a foul while trying to make a steal against Aaron Bright. Bright made both foul shots, and the constantly uphill climb for UCLA ended.
UCLA’s last stand came when it forced a Stanford miss with about 25 seconds left. Anderson missed a 12-footer, but on a tied-up rebound UCLA got the ball back. With four seconds left, Jones had a five-foot shot in the lane blocked by Stanford’s Josh Owens.
Jones said he should have passed the ball.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “I wasn’t open.”
At halftime the Bruins trailed by a point, which seemed unlikely when they were down by as many as 11 and were outrebounded 24-18 and allowed the Cardinal 10 offensive rebounds.
But Jones had a spurt of scoring seven straight points including a baseline jumper that cut Stanford’s lead to 24-23 with 2:18 left in the first half. No one scored again, though Jones, who had 14 points in the first 20 minutes, had a chance to put the Bruins ahead when he tried to convert a steal into a layup. Jones missed, and it appeared that he’d been fouled Jones unsuccessfully begged for the call.
Two disappointing statistics for UCLA — nine missed free throws (15-of-24) and 12 offensive rebounds allowed to Stanford.
Smith shook his head at the mention of the missed free throws. “We missed nine,” he said. “We lost by one. If we make three more of them, we’re holding the ball at the end with a lead and waiting to be fouled.”