UCLA delivers loud message with 78-75 win at Colorado

BOULDER, Colo. -- The collective primal scream that burst through UCLA’s locker room door said a lot Saturday. The way Coach Ben Howland barreled through his postgame opening statement said more.

Howland was giddy. Yes, giddy.

“He’s happy,” forward Travis Wear said. “We all are. We’re where we want to be.”

That would be heading home, after four days in the mountains that was anything but a trip down the bunny slopes.

The Bruins couldn’t exhale until a three-point shot by Askia Booker clanged off the rim, preserving a 78-75 victory. When they did let loose, it had the capability of causing an avalanche.

The postgame scream was “a private team thing,” Howland said. But not a regularly scheduled event.

“Coach gets everyone together, brings the young guys up front and we yell,” Wear said. “We do it after big wins.”

The last one?

“Missouri,” Wear said.

It was more than two weeks ago, but worth the wait.

This was the Bruins’ ninth consecutive victory and left them undefeated in Pac-12 Conference play. It completed a two-game swing through Utah and Colorado that seemed to show the Bruins’ mettle.

The Bruins (14-3, 4-0 in conference play) held up during blizzard conditions and a dicey bus ride in Salt Lake City to get a 57-53 victory over Utah on Thursday.

They endured a cacophony in the final five minutes in the Coors Events Center on Saturday, but the Buffaloes (11-5, 1-3) couldn’t erase a 13-point deficit and were left with their first home loss.

“This showed how tough we are,” said guard Kyle Anderson, who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

These are the type of trips that can win conference championships, though Howland wasn’t touching that. Asked whether he recalled such a trip in seasons that UCLA won the conference, Howland smiled and said, “I can’t remember.”

Nor would he be able to remember the last time UCLA came to Boulder. He was 5 years old.

The Bruins left with a loss that day, though since then they have been to 40 NCAA tournaments and Colorado to five. But Saturday had nothing to do with ancient history.

It was Colorado that went to the NCAA tournament last season. The Bruins sat home and watched on television. That made this game, in an arena where the Buffaloes had a 52-7 record since 2010, a stepping-stone moment.

“To be at 5,345 feet above sea level and win is a great thing,” Howland said.

Howland knew his geography because the altitude was posted in the locker room, much the way Howland had the altitude in big numbers outside the visitors’ locker room when he coached at Northern Arizona.

“The altitude was crazy,” Anderson said.

And the crowd worse.

“We couldn’t hear a thing out there the last five minutes,” said freshman guard Jordan Adams, who had 18 points.

Then Wear went to work. He scored nine points in the last five minutes to blunt the Buffaloes’ rally.

The Bruins shot 52%. Wear made 11 of 17 shots. The last four had a librarian’s effect on the crowd.

Wear hemmed and hawed a little, but admitted that “it feels good to hit a shot and silence the crowd.”

For a time, Wear’s gritty work didn’t seem to be needed. UCLA went on a 14-2 run midway through the second half. Every point was scored by a freshman. Adams had seven points, including a four-point play — three-point basket and a free throw — for a 58-45 lead.

“It was just a coincidence that it was all freshmen,” Anderson said.

Not so, said Wear.

“Those guys can put together runs like that,” Wear said. “It was ‘bam, bam, bam.’

“That we faced this gives the younger guys confidence. We know we went out and won these kind of games.”

Something they screamed to the mountain tops Saturday.