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No. 9 UCLA manages to avoid collapse in 71-65 victory over Colorado

Jules Bernard handles the ball as UCLA teammate Jaylen Clark follows him.
Jules Bernard handles the ball as UCLA teammate Jaylen Clark follows him during the first half of a 71-65 win over Colorado on Saturday night.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

It was snowballing inside the old basketball barn, a once-quiet arena rocking. With one empty possession after another for UCLA, the decibel level soared. Students behind one basket furiously waved white towels.

Only minutes earlier, it had appeared white flags were in order for Colorado while being run off its own court.

The ninth-ranked Bruins led by 17 points early in the second half and appeared on the verge of a rare breather in Pac-12 play. Instead, with just 36 seconds left, they were practically breathless.

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A rash of injuries and COVID-19 issues have kept UCLA from running on all cylinders. The Bruins are hoping to play more cohesively.

Down by just two, Colorado had the ball with a chance to tie the score or take the lead. Freshman guard K.J. Simpson drove toward the basket. UCLA’s Jules Bernard thrust his arms into the air to contest the shot.

The ball bounced off the rim and Johnny Juzang was there to grab the rebound with 17 seconds left, the pivotal sequence in the Bruins’ 71-65 victory.

“I was right next to their bench and I heard their coach say ‘Attack,’” Bernard said, “so I took it a little personal. [Simpson] drove hard, tried to cross over to his left and I didn’t want to foul because if it goes up, it has a chance of going in and I didn’t want to give him a three-point play. So just contest, hands straight up, and don’t foul and make the shot tough on him.”

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang, left, looks to pass the ball as Colorado guard Nique Clifford defends in the second half.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Colorado students tried to make things hard on Juzang as he stepped to the free-throw line with 16 seconds left and UCLA holding a 65-63 lead, chanting an expletive at him. Juzang made both free throws and the Bruins (13-2 overall, 5-1 Pac-12) prevailed after Colorado’s Jabari Walker lost his grip on the ball on a drive toward the basket, preventing another comeback.

It was the second gut-check win after UCLA persevered in similar fashion two nights earlier against Utah. With his team leading only 62-61 after a Walker dunk that had the crowd roaring, Bruins coach Mick Cronin extended his hands, palms down, and pushed them toward the court to settle his players.

UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell, who had missed his last nine three-pointers, made one with 1½ minutes left to extend his team’s advantage to 65-61.

“I just came off the screen and my man went under and I’m a confident shooter,” Campbell said, “so I just shot it and it went in, so I’m just thankful for that.”

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell passes the ball as Colorado guard KJ Simpson, left, defends during the second half.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Juzang finished with 23 points on nine-for-18 shooting, including several critical late jumpers, to help the Bruins win despite an extended cold spell in which they opened the second half making only five of their first 17 shots. The defensive effort that had forced 14 turnovers in the first half was also not nearly as good in the second half.

“It was unbelievable, our defense in the first half,” Cronin said. “It was equally bad in the second half. I told the guys at halftime, ‘We’re not going to win in the teens; we’re either going to get up 20 or it’s going to be a bloodbath.’ It became a bloodbath but I was proud of the guys.”

Walker finished with 19 points for the Buffaloes (12-6, 4-4), who finished with 21 turnovers to UCLA’s 11.

The Bruins got an early lift from center Myles Johnson in an unexpected role. After Cody Riley picked up a foul only 23 seconds into the game, Johnson entered and scored the first four points on a jump hook and a layup. He finished with eight points on four-for-four shooting to go with two blocks, two rebounds and a steal.

UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. also provided a boost with 14 points, including a corner three-pointer to snap an 0-for-9 streak from beyond the arc. Bruins legend Bill Walton, who called the game as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network, pointed at Jaquez in a hallway on his way out of the arena.

“Yeah, Bill,” Jaquez said in acknowledgment as Walton walked past.

There was plenty to celebrate heading into a showdown against third-ranked Arizona on Tuesday inside Pauley Pavilion, which will allow all fans for the first time since Dec. 1.

“Trying to keep finding a way,” Jaquez said. “We’ve had some leads at half [that disintegrated]. I think that’s just kind of us as a team having to take the next step to be where we want to be, is expanding on those leads.”

They survived the loss of another big lead, finding a way to win while silencing the crowd once more.


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