UCLA finds a way to win a close game, advances to Wooden Legacy title game

UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton tries to drive around Nebraska guard Glynn Watson Jr. during the first half of a Wooden Legacy semifinal game Friday night.
(Christine Cotter / Associated Press)

And now for something really different from the UCLA Bruins — a close game.

The Bruins had breezed to an unbeaten mark in their first five games, winning by an average of 26.6 points per game.

They were a high-flying offensive machine, averaging 104.4 points per game.

But Friday night against Nebraska, the Bruins found themselves in a tight contest, having to hold off a Cornhuskers rally for a 82-71 victory in their semifinal of the Wooden Legacy tournament at Cal State Fullerton.

The 14th-ranked Bruins (6-0) will meet Texas A&M, a 68-65 winner over Virginia Tech, at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Honda Center in the tournament final.


“This is a fun team, but we have a long way to go,” Coach Steve Alford said of the Bruins. “We’re a good team, we’re trying to become a great team.”

The Bruins led by 13 points at the half over very cold-shooting Nebraska team (28.6%). Not exactly their typical blowout, but it appeared comfortable enough.

But the Cornhuskers quickly found their range to start the second half, cutting the UCLA lead to 58-56. For the first time this season, the Bruins had reason to be nervous.

UCLA’s balanced attack still proved too much for the Cornhuskers (4-1).

Bryce Alford scored 11 of his team-high 18 points in the game’s final six minutes to lead five Bruins in double figures.

“That’s something I’ve always prided myself on – being a closer,” the senior guard said.

Team play, moving and sharing the ball has been the hallmark of the Bruins this season.

The Cornhuskers looked uncertain whether they could hang with UCLA early.

They connected on only one of eight three-point attempts in the first half.

But they looked plenty comfortable and confident to start the second half, making five of their first seven attempts.

Meanwhile, UCLA phenom Lonzo Ball found himself in early foul trouble and ended up fouling out with 1:30 left to play.


By then, however, the Bruins had fought off their first real challenge and taken back command.

Ball finished with 13 points and seven assists. Guard Isaac Hamilton added 15 points and five rebounds, while T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welch added 12 points each.

Welch also had a game-high 11 rebounds.

“They had my back,” Ball said. “That’s the joy of this team. Everyone plays for each other and not themselves.”

The 82 points still made for UCLA’s lowest scoring game of the season.

Nebraska countered with some strong guard play from Glynn Watson Jr. (27 points) and Tai Webster (19).

The Bruins showed improved defensive play, but forced only six Nebraska turnovers.