UCLA Coach Jim Mora angry over questions about player’s use late in game
A UCLA victory that had enough bright spots ended on a somber note late Saturday night.
Tevita Halalilo, a freshman offensive lineman, suffered what Coach Jim Mora called a “significant” ankle injury with less than a minute to play. Halalilo, who was appearing in his first game, was carted off the field with his right leg in a splint and his parents were brought from the stands to the locker room.
It led to an angry moment by Mora during the postgame news conference when he was asked about the use of players late in games that are already decided. The Bruins were leading, 37-3, against UNLV but continued to run their up-tempo offense in the final minutes.
Mora answered questions about the late-game play selection and then stormed out of the postgame press conference.
“I can’t believe you’re being critical of it. If you’re being critical of it, you need to readjust your thinking, Mora said. “What do you want us to do, take a knee and not run plays? Get penalized?”
Mora defended using walk-on players who have few chances for playing time.
“They go out on the field and bust their butts every day,” Mora said.
Mora cited Nick Pasquale, a walk-on receiver who died tragically two years ago when struck by a car. He had appeared in his only game as a UCLA player the previous night.
“I learned a valuable lesson two years ago when Nick Pasquale died,” Mora said. “The lesson is everybody deserves a chance to go out there and play. Nick’s dream was to play in a UCLA game. We got in a position where we put some guys in who hadn’t played a lot and we got Nick in for a game. That is something his family going to cherish forever.”
The Pasquale moment was different. Halalilo is on scholarship and will have four years to earn a starting job. The Bruins were also running out the clock the night Pasquale played and, as a receiver, there was far less chance of injury compared to an offensive lineman.
The questions Saturday were about the style the Bruins were playing at the end of the game.
The postgame scene briefly grew tense as Mora stared down the reporter who asked the question.
Receiver Jordan Payton said Halalilo’s injury led to an “anti-climactic ending. You don’t like to see that happen at the end game. The guys were a little down. You don’t want see one’s teammate go down, especially with 37-38 seconds left.”
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