Late in the first half of Saturday’s game against Texas, a power surge left the Los Angeles Sports Arena dark with the UCLA men’s basketball team holding its largest lead of the game. Turns out, it effectively drew the curtains on the Bruins.
As the lights worked their way back to full brightness, the Bruins’ lead dissipated and the Longhorns surged ahead. Texas would quickly take the lead in the second half, and that was the only lead change of the game, which the Longhorns came from behind to win, 69-59.
The power outage demarcated two distinct stretches of play for the Bruins (2-5). Before, they were hot from the field, starting 6-of-6 with all five starters making a basket.
With UCLA holding an 11-point lead, play was stopped for 13 minutes after the lights turned off. That was enough time for the Bruins to cool off and the Longhorns (5-2) to find new life.
“Everything was going right for us,” redshirt sophomore forward Travis Wear said. “But that just comes from effort and playing hard at the beginning and doing our defensive principles. In the second half, we got away from that a little bit. We broke down, and it was kind of the snowball effect after that.”
Texas came out after the break and attacked UCLA’s tall frontline on offense and defense, pulling them outside on screen-and-rolls on one end while contesting every shot attempt near the basket on the other.
“Coach (Rick Barnes) said keep wearing them down, keep hitting them with screens, and they’re going to stop trying to run through them,” said Longhorns junior guard J’Covan Brown, who scored 22 points and was 4-of-8 on 3-pointers.
Texas chipped away and took the lead for good with 14:38 to play in the second half. The Longhorns shot 71 percent from the field in the second half, which once again had UCLA coach Ben Howland considering changing his defensive scheme after the game.
UCLA went without a field goal for more than seven minutes in the second half, a sloppy stretch full of missed layups and slow ball movement. The Bruins desperately needed a scoring punch, but Howland had already decided that it wasn’t going to come from the team’s leading returning scorer, junior forward Reeves Nelson.
After a sequence just before halftime when Nelson was dunked on and then had his shot blocked, Howland benched Nelson for the second half. Howland said that it was “horrible defense” on the dunk and that Nelson looked tired in his 12 minutes of first-half action.
“He had a couple practices that weren’t great leading up to this game,” added Howland, who suspended Nelson on Nov. 14.
One fan yelled “Put Reeves in!” late in the second half to the applause of those around him in the crowd of 6,177, UCLA’s best turnout at the Sports Arena this year. But Howland wouldn’t, possibly signaling that it’ll take more for Nelson to work his way out of the doghouse.
“I’m sure that Reeves will get everything together,” senior guard Lazeric Jones said. “I don’t doubt him at all.”