UCLA wins and gets ready for some road work
UCLA players can take a moment to exhale and wipe the sweat from their foreheads.
But the hard work begins now.
That the Bruins survived a fierce second-half push by California for a 76-64 victory Sunday was certainly noteworthy. That it left them tied with the Golden Bears for second place in the Pac-12 Conference was a resume builder. That UCLA officials could announce a crowd of more than 10,000 (10,344) with so many empty seats in Pauley Pavilion looked good on paper.
But it’s where UCLA goes from here that matters — Eugene, Corvallis, Berkeley, Palo Alto, etc. If the Bruins think they are Pac-12 contenders — and they do — they will have to show it away from home.
UCLA (16-4 overall, 5-2 in Pac-12) plays five of its next seven games away from Pauley Pavilion.
It’s a stretch that led Coach Steve Alford to state the obvious: “In a conference like this, getting road wins is hard. We’re learning that getting home games is hard.”
It was a lot harder than it had to be Sunday.
The Bruins were so hot offensively in the first half that they picked up a point after they went to the locker room. After watching a replay, referees ruled that a Jordan Adams jumper was a three-pointer.
UCLA built a 19-point second half lead, but then came a shot to the solar plexus. The Bears (14-6, 5-2) went on a 20-4 run to pull to within three, 55-52, with seven minutes left.
Alford blamed his players.
“I thought we were giving up transition plays and that had to do with very poor offense,” he said.
It was his players who restored order. Kyle Anderson scored eight of his 17 points in the last six minutes. Bryce Alford had nine points in the last five minutes, making five of six free throws at the end to settle matters.
It sent the Bruins north to play at Oregon on Thursday and at Oregon State on Sunday. Steve Alford seemed to have already packed his coach-speak.
“We’re going have to mature as a basketball team,” he said. “We have to keep getting better.”
The Bruins leave knowing they will need a road sweep at some point, as they sit two games behind Arizona.
“We definitely don’t want a split,” forward David Wear said. “This trip, to get two wins, would be huge for us.”
It would help the Bruins erase their one conference home loss, to the top-ranked Wildcats.
“Teams that lose home games put pressure on themselves, because now the road becomes an absolute must,” Steve Alford said. “Not just [to win] one, for every home loss you have, you have to go get two road wins.”
UCLA avoided needing extra road work by holding off California.
The Bruins were blistering from the start. They shot 52% in the first half and had the Bears looking disorganized. Wear, who was ill enough this week to miss practices, scored 16 of his career-high 18 points in the first half. He had eight during a 14-2 run that helped UCLA to a 40-29 halftime lead.
“I was just making sure I wasn’t standing and watching,” Wear said. “You do that, and the ball finds you.”
The margin swelled to 51-32 with 15 minutes left. Then came the margin call, with Cal’s Jabari Bird scoring 11 points in four minutes.
Anderson (15 points in the second half) and Bryce Alford (11 of his 13) blunted that push. UCLA’s defense held the Bears to 36% shooting from the field.
Now comes the hard work.
Said Anderson: “We have to go out on the road and get some wins.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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