UCLA got off to such a flat start Wednesday night that interim coach Murry Bartow subbed out four of his five starters after the first timeout, leaving in only Kris Wilkes.
Things never really got any better.
Whatever combination of players Bartow used or whichever defense he put his team in, nothing seemed to work for more than a few minutes at a time. Wilkes couldn’t even start the second half because he was feeling sick and lingered in the locker room longer than usual.
“We looked up,” Bartow said, “and he wasn’t out there with about a minute to go on the clock” before the second half.
All of the Bruins were feeling uneasy by the end of their 84-73 loss at Pauley Pavilion, a supposedly soft pocket of their schedule starting with a massive thud.
Turnovers weren’t the primary culprit this time. UCLA turned the ball over only 12 times in a departure from its usual sloppy ways, but the Bruins (12-11 overall, 5-5 Pac-12 Conference) had trouble defending anyone beyond the three-point arc on the way to their second consecutive defeat.
Colorado, which entered the game making a conference-worst 32% of its three-pointers, made 13 of 24 attempts (54.2%) against the Bruins. Buffaloes guard Shane Gatling was a game-long nuisance, making seven of nine three-pointers and finishing with a career-high 28 points.
“They swung it well, they attacked gaps, some of them were tough shots,” UCLA point guard Jaylen Hands said. “Gatling was seven for nine. That was unheard of.”
Bartow said he considered coming out of the 2-3 and 3-2 zones his team alternated but figured those were the alignments that gave the Bruins the best chance to win. He did acknowledge some regret in removing center Moses Brown for more than three minutes late in the game when the Buffaloes (13-9, 4-6) started a 16-4 run that turned the Bruins’ two-point deficit into a 14-point hole.
“Probably a mistake,” Bartow said. “Moses just gives us a dimension that we don’t have when he’s not in the game.”
Brown finished with team highs across the board (17 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and four steals). His interior defense resulted in two blocks that sparked a 9-0 run late in the first half, pulling UCLA to within 38-37 at halftime after the Bruins had trailed by as many as 13 points in the game’s early going.
Brown also made a couple of jump hooks, showing increased versatility with a post game that had largely consisted of dunks and putbacks over the season’s first three months.
“Coach told me before the game that they were going to trap me,” Brown said. “So, with that I just saw what direction they were coming and trapping from and I went to the other side and did a hook.”
There wasn’t much support for the big man.
UCLA reserve guard Chris Smith broke out of a month-long slump with 14 points — as many as he had over his previous seven games combined — but Brown’s fellow starters combined to make only nine of 29 shots (31%) amid more stagnating ball movement. Wilkes finished with eight points on three-for-11 shooting, the first time this season he did not reach double figures in scoring.
Bartow had trouble finding reliability with almost any lineup. He pulled four starters less than four minutes into the game with the Bruins trailing 10-2 and yanked guard Prince Ali early in the second half after he committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions.
The blunders were partially offset by pockets of inspired play. Hands, who had 13 points and six assists to go with two turnovers, found Smith open underneath the basket for a dunk that pulled the Bruins within 69-65 with a little less than five minutes to go.
But Gatling buried an open corner three-pointer and Colorado’s Tyler Bey (16 points, 10 rebounds) converted an alley-oop lob into a dunk that gave the Buffaloes a nine-point cushion on the way to a third consecutive victory over the Bruins.
It left Bartow to ponder a fourth home defeat, the most UCLA has sustained since dropping six games at Pauley Pavilion during the 2015-16 season.
“You got a game at home,” Bartow said, “you gotta figure out a way to line up and win and we just didn’t get it done.”
UCLA closed to 60-59 on a 3-pointer by Jaylen Hands before Colorado took control of the game’s final nine minutes, outscoring the Bruins, 26-15.