1-point win over California seals 5th straight victory for UCLA men’s basketball
Sophomore forward/center Adem Bona shouts during a game. Bona posted a team-high 13 points – seven of which came at the free throw line – against California on Saturday afternoon. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Feb. 10, 2024 5:35 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 11 at 10:56 p.m.
The Bruins entered the halftime locker room up 11.
But a first-half 46.2% shooting percentage became irrelevant when a different team emerged in the second.
UCLA was outscored by 10 points in the second frame, scoring at a 9-for-32 clip from the field to forfeit its lead more than once. Ultimately, one point separated the academic rivals, and a pair of trips to the charity stripe kept the Bruins’ hopes at beating the Golden Bears this season alive.
Splitting the regular season series, UCLA men’s basketball (13-11, 8-5 Pac-12) narrowly surmounted California (10-14, 6-7) in a 61-60 win at Haas Pavilion on Saturday. The contest came just a month after the Golden Bears took down the Bruins by nine on the latter’s home court.
Sophomore forward/center Adem Bona told reporters his team’s hunger for the win ultimately kept the Bruins in the game.
“The hungry dog gets the bone,” Bona said. “So we come in hard every time. We’re going to get the bone.”
Trailing by double digits, Cal emerged out of the locker room on a 11-6 run to chop its deficit down to six. The Golden Bears continued to capitalize on their opponents’ scoring woes, reducing the Bruin lead back to six with 10 minutes to go. UCLA’s second-half 9-for-32 performance from the field – combined with an 8-0 run in under three minutes from Cal – became the ideal combination for a one-point game with less than five minutes to go.
“We couldn’t get any shots to go in, but we stuck with it,” Bona said. “We tried to use our defense to our advantage. If we couldn’t score, we would try to stop them from scoring.”
And with just under three minutes remaining, Golden Bear guard Jaylon Tyson gave his team the lead – but not for long.
The Golden Bears’ moment in the driver’s seat was ultimately fleeting, as junior guard Lazar Stefanovic stole back the advantage with a shot from deep – the Bruins’ second make from behind the arc in the half.
Yet, a pair of free throws from Cal knotted the score, and a layup one minute later gave it the lead again with 60 seconds remaining.
“We knew going into halftime this game is going to be a fight,” said freshman guard/forward Brandon Williams. “They weren’t going to give up. So we just had to keep battling.”
The final minute contained an and-1 from Bona, a Cal layup and a basket from sophomore guard Dylan Andrews, swapping the lead back and forth, one possession after the other.
And in the hot potato that was lead changes, a triad of free throws – including freshman guard Sebastian Mack’s first conversion after four misses – ensured that UCLA ended with the victory in its hand.
“My message after the game was good teams win when the ball doesn’t go in, and that’s who we were last year,” said coach Mick Cronin. “That’s who we’ve been, it just took a while when you’ve got all new players, and you lose your five leading scorers.”
As for the first half, a one-on-one battle between the two California schools’ leaders characterized the opening minutes of the first half. Tyson contributed all seven of his team’s initial points, while Andrews posted eight of UCLA’s first 13. Following Tyson’s early scoring, the Bruins spurred an 11-0 run – largely thanks to Andrews – to claim an early eight-point lead.
UCLA continued to capitalize on its scoring success with three consecutive scoring possessions coming out of a timeout – including a 3-pointer from Stefanovic – to stretch its lead to 13.
The two programs traded baskets for the remaining minutes of the first before UCLA entered the locker room with an 11-point advantage. Cal’s 24 points were the second fewest first-half points the Bruins have allowed in a Pac-12 game all season.
And while the Golden Bears came back fighting in the second, the Bruins’ last minute drive proved just enough to slide by with another conference win.
“It’s a tough game where we could’ve folded,” Bona said. “Earlier in the season, we would’ve been having a different conversation right now.”