Bruins rally against last-place Bears to end three-game losing streak
Courtside fans across from the UCLA bench had a perfect view of one of the worst imaginable sights midway through the first half Thursday night.
Bruins center Thomas Welsh rolled over on his side only a few feet away, clutching his left knee in anguish. Pauley Pavilion got so quiet you could have heard a championship banner drop.
UCLA had lost three consecutive games and could hardly afford to lose its best post player while trailing California by 11 points in the early going of a must-win situation on its home court. Welsh had to be helped off the court and into the locker room, his return uncertain because of a sprained left knee.
But an unexpected thing happened on the way to what appeared to be shaping up as a meltdown: The Bruins assembled what might have been their best 11 minutes of the season.
UCLA scored 18 consecutive points and Welsh returned in the second half to help complete his team’s 70-57 victory over the Golden Bears in what qualified as a badly needed win-win for the faltering Bruins.
“I just thought we fought,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “We had some toughness to us tonight.”
Welsh was cheered when he walked back onto the court after halftime and took a seat on the UCLA bench while wearing a white wrapping over his knee. He checked back into the game shortly thereafter and helped the Bruins withstand an 8-0 Cal run that put the Bears briefly back ahead.
Welsh took a pass from GG Goloman and went up for a two-handed dunk that gave UCLA a 49-47 lead. The Bruins never trailed again.
Hands, making his first start since November as part of Alford’s efforts to “change things up,” collected 14 points and six rebounds, and Welsh had seven points and five rebounds in 26 minutes.
UCLA had trailed by as many as 13 points before Welsh went down after contesting a jumper. The Bruins then closed the first half with a 24-4 run that included the 18-0 push, with all but two of those points in the latter surge coming after Welsh departed.
There was a Goloman running hook shot, a Holiday floater and a Hands tip-in of his own miss.
Fans who had booed only minutes earlier were roaring in approval.
Justice Sueing scored 24 points for Cal (7-14, 1-7), which shot 35.5% and made only four of 16 three-pointers (33.3%). It didn’t help the Bears that they were playing without leading scorer Don Coleman, who was held out because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
UCLA found itself on the wrong end of another slow start, the Bears scoring the game’s first six points. A metaphor emerged in the opening seconds when Welsh was knocked to the floor on a three-pointer that he missed and no foul was called.
It was the latest body blow for a player who has had his nose broken twice since September and has worn a mask for the last seven games.
Welsh showed he was fine when he dived on the court for a loose ball in the second half and rose for a three-pointer.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Alford said. “He just gives you everything he’s got.”
Saturday vs. Stanford, 7:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Pac-12 Networks — The Cardinal (11-10 overall, 5-3 Pac-12 Conference) have lost two consecutive games after their hot start to conference play, which included a 107-99 victory over the Bruins in double overtime at Maples Pavilion.
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