In the final seconds, an eight-clap broke out in one corner of Haas Pavilion. Jaylen Hands put his arm around David Singleton and patted him on the chest. There were hand slaps and smiles all around.
UCLA could finally exhale after avoiding rock bottom against a team searching for its first Pac-12 Conference triumph.
For most of Wednesday night, the Bruins had made their coach look prophetic when he said his team could lose to anyone in the conference. UCLA scored only 25 points in the first half, missed lots of free throws and continually threw the ball away against last-place California while falling behind by 11 points.
But the finish was all that mattered in the Bruins’ 75-67 overtime victory, which ended their losing streak at three games and prevented them from falling below .500 for the first time this season.
It also erased some of the lingering frustration from a 22-point collapse against Utah on Saturday.
“It was a big win,” interim coach Murry Bartow said. “I mean, if you would have put an overtime loss on the back of that Utah finish, it would have been tough.”
That accuracy was all the more stunning considering the Bruins had made only three of 10 free throws in the second half and missed the front end of three one-and-one opportunities that could have helped them win in regulation with relative ease.
UCLA forward Kris Wilkes regained his shooting touch with 27 points, making nine of 15 shots, and guard Singleton triggered the Bruins’ comeback by making all four of his three-point shots in the second half on the way to 12 points.
“Really, I think it started with David Singleton,” Wilkes said. “I think the energy sparked when David started hitting threes and we were all able to follow after him.”
UCLA forced overtime after trailing by four points with two minutes left thanks to a flurry of three-pointers. Singleton made one and Wilkes made two, including one after he pump-faked a defender, to give the Bruins a 64-61 lead with 46 seconds left.
“He’s our best player,” Bartow said of Wilkes, “and that’s the way he’s supposed to play.”
But Cal’s Matt Bradley made an open corner three-pointer to tie the score and Wilkes missed a three-point shot at the buzzer.
Bartow found a lineup he liked after UCLA trailed by 11 points early in the second half and it helped the Bruins rattle off a 12-0 run. It consisted of Singleton and Wilkes plus center Moses Brown and guards Jules Bernard and Chris Smith, a unit whose biggest contribution might have been its selfless play.
“We got back to what we can do,” Singleton said, “because we stopped caring about who gets the credit and just played as a team and more like a family.”
Bernard scored seven points and Smith had six points and three assists, including an alley-oop pass to Brown for a dunk. Brown, coming off a five-second cameo against Utah after being benched for most of that game for being late to a shootaround, grabbed 11 rebounds to go with his four points and three blocks.
Darius McNeill scored 18 points for Cal (5-19, 0-12), which has dropped its last 13 games. Wilkes said the Bruins didn’t want to be the Golden Bears’ first Pac-12 victim.
“We talked about how the last three games that they had been playing real hard,” Wilkes said, “and it wasn’t easy coming in here and winning.”
UCLA got off to about the ugliest start imaginable, missing its first nine shots while spotting Cal the game’s first nine points. Bartow had seen enough of his starters a little more than three minutes into the game, subbing them out as a unit for five backups.
“You never want to get taken out that early,” Wilkes said.
The second unit didn’t fare any better. Forward Cody Riley committed a charging foul and forward Alex Olesinski fouled Cal’s Justice Sueing on a three-pointer before being replaced by Brown.
Bernard finally put the Bruins on the board on a floating jumper with 14:57 left in the first half. But UCLA kept missing shots, making only one of its first 13 attempts.
It would get worse before it got better, the Bruins’ precision showing up just in time to help them secure what felt like a great escape.
“We needed this a lot,” Wilkes said.
Saturday at Stanford, 7 p.m., Maples Pavilion, ESPN2 — The Cardinal, who lost by 22 points when the teams met in January in Pauley Pavilion, are among the teams jostling with the Bruins for one of the top four seedings in the Pac-12 Conference tournament.