Once again, California had raced out of the second-half gates against the UCLA men’s basketball team. This time, the Bruins didn’t let the game get away from them.
But the running trend throughout UCLA’s 73-63 loss to Cal was the lack of team play ““ confusion on offense, miscommunication on defense, frustration throughout ““ and it reappeared when the Bruins needed it the least.
Senior guard Jerime Anderson made a 3-pointer with 3:15 left in the game that cut the Bears’ lead, once 17, to just seven points. What followed would prevent the deficit from shrinking the rest of the game: Anderson’s sloppy pass getting stolen before UCLA could even run a play; a contested 3-pointer by Anderson in transition that was off the mark; and another bad pass from Anderson.
“I was trying to force the issue, but it was too little, too late,” said Anderson, who co-led UCLA with 16 points.
On the next possession, the Bruins once again watched while the Bears ran yet another pick-and-roll. Justin Cobbs took the screen and found Allen Crabbe wide open from the right wing, and Crabbe hit a 3-pointer to ice the game.
UCLA (14-11, 7-6 Pac-12) couldn’t defend the pick-and-roll all afternoon, a major reason the Bruins found themselves down by such a large margin in the second half against the conference leader.
Coach Ben Howland said his big men ““ especially sophomore center Joshua Smith, a frequent pick-and-roll target with his lack of foot speed ““ weren’t stopping the action up top. Behind them, the rotations were a step slow, and Cal (20-6, 10-3) found itself with numerous open chances. All because of the most common plays in basketball.
“It’s just simple, normal stuff that you would expect we should be better at right now,” Howland said.
Another simple basketball play ““ a pass leading to a made basket ““ eluded UCLA in the first half when the Bruins went assist-less. The passes were being made, but the shots weren’t falling, even on the easy chances forwards and centers clamor for.
“It was just a rough night,” said redshirt sophomore forward David Wear, who shot 4-of-13 from the field. “It was shots we normally make and we should make, not worrying about the contact and just going up there and finishing.”
Between David Wear, Travis Wear and Smith, the vaunted UCLA frontcourt shot just 30 percent from the field.
“We just missed some pretty easy shots,” senior guard Lazeric Jones said. “That happens. It’s a part of basketball.”
Defensive specialist Anthony Stover likely would not have changed that had he played, but the redshirt sophomore center was held out with a left foot tendon injury.
Still, Anderson’s 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer kept the Bruins within six points at the half, and they were within four shortly into the second half before the Bears went on a 15-2 run.
On Dec. 31 in Berkeley, the two teams battled to a 1-point Cal halftime lead before the Bears ran away with the game by going on a 10-0 run to open the second half.
“At halftime we talked about coming out strong and not letting them jump out like they did the last time we played them,” David Wear said. “It was tough that we let that happen again.”
The loss erased UCLA’s perfect home record in conference play and UCLA remained in the middle of the Pac-12 standings. Just one game separates first and fifth place in the conference and UCLA sits two games behind the five-team pack in sixth place. Only the top four teams in the Pac-12 get a first-round bye in March’s conference tournament, which the Bruins will have to win to make the NCAA Tournament.
A game against Cal represented a chance to beat a likely NCAA Tournament team, of which there are few remaining on UCLA’s schedule. But the Bruins, still searching for consistency, weren’t out to prove anything to anyone but themselves.
“We needed to beat that Cal team just for our sake,” Anderson said. “That’s it. But it didn’t go down like that today.”