As the game tightened, UCLA having yielded the seven-point lead over a matter of minutes, the Bruins did what Isaac Hamilton said would be required to win the Wooden Legacy.
They got nastier on defense.
It started with just under three minutes to play against Texas A&M on Sunday at the Honda Center, freshman forward T.J. Leaf’s steal leading to a three-pointer by teammate Lonzo Ball that nudged the Bruins back in front by two points.
It continued with a Hamilton block that resulted in another UCLA three-pointer, by Bryce Alford. And it ended with Alford’s steal that forced the Aggies to foul the senior guard and send him to the free-throw line, where he made both shots.
Three plays in a little more than two minutes, the Bruins going from unpleasant to nasty to vile on the defensive end to pull out a 74-67 victory in the championship game of the tournament bearing the name of their legendary former coach.
“What I learned is how our guys can figure it out and fight through it and when it gets down to it, that’s a good trend,” Coach Steve Alford said Tuesday. “We won the last five minutes and that’s always good to see.”
UCLA captured the final two games of the tournament with its lowest scoring totals of the season, showing it can prevail while playing a variety of styles.
The Bruins have mostly been hailed for a share-and-share-alike offense that entered the week leading the nation in field-goal accuracy (54.7%) and assists per game (24.1). They also ranked No. 3 in points per game (96.9), No. 4 in assist-turnover ratio (1.99) and had six players averaging double figures in scoring.
But they know there will be times this season when the shots aren’t falling and they’ll need to scrap for steals and blocks, as they did Sunday. Now they have a template for what that looks like.
“We locked down, got stops and scored on the other end, which kind of pushed them at a much faster pace,” Hamilton said.
There was no easing into the season for Ike Anigbogu. His first college games came against the massive front lines of Nebraska and Texas A&M.
The freshman post player showed glimpses of his potential as an elite defender in his return from the knee injury that had sidelined him since last month, blocking four shots in 18 minutes during the two games.
“I was very proud of him,” Steve Alford said. “I thought he gave us everything he had.”
Anigbogu could provide even more soon, because he no longer has any minutes restrictions. He said he’s still working on getting back into game shape and finishing around the basket, among other skills that diminished a bit during the time he was sidelined.
“I feel like I should be back to how I was before in not that much time,” Anigbogu said.
Alford said forward Gyorgy Goloman was questionable to play against UC Riverside on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion after turning an ankle against Texas A&M. … Ball was selected the Pac-12 Conference player of the week after averaging 15.7 points, 9.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the three Wooden Legacy games. … UCLA rose three spots to No. 11 in the Associated Press media ranking, its highest standing since Feb. 9, 2009.
VS. UC RIVERSIDE
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.
Update: UCLA Coach Steve Alford has described this as “a dangerous game” because it’s coming between the Bruins’ championship in the Wooden Legacy and a showdown with top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday. “Our attention and focus, we’ve got to make sure these guys are totally focused on Riverside,” Alford said. “If not, then we could have a tough night.” UCLA is trying to go 8-0 for the first time since the 2013-14 season, Alford’s first with the Bruins. UC Riverside (1-3) is led by freshman point guard Dikymbe Martin, who averages 12.5 points per game and has made 17 of 24 shots (70.8%) in his last two games, including the Highlanders’ 85-67 loss to Utah on Friday. UCLA has won all four of its meetings with the Highlanders, having prevailed, 77-66, when the teams last met in December 2014.