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UCLA men’s basketball defeats Colorado as Bruin defense bests Buffalo offense

Freshman guard Sebastian Mack rises above his defender with the ball. Mack put up 19 points against the Buffaloes on Thursday night, along with four rebounds and two steals. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Men’s Basketball


Colorado60
UCLA64

By Lauryn Olina Wang

Feb. 15, 2024 9:08 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 15 at 10:13 p.m.

Two Bruins volleyed a sequence of electric plays in a nationally televised bout.

Sophomore forward/center Adem Bona flew toward the basket to throw the ball down on the alley-oop. Then, freshman guard Sebastian Mack split the lane on a swift drive-by layup as defenders looked on.

Bona posted an explosive block on the other end, and Mack left a defender in his wake and ended up on the floorboards himself with an ankle-breaker in the midrange. 

Against the Pac-12’s most efficient offense, the least efficient team in the conference hardly appeared so. Bruin basketball was back.

On Thursday evening, UCLA men’s basketball (14-11, 9-5 Pac-12) effectively outperformed its status as the worst scoring offense in the conference while proving its pedigree as the best scoring defense in a nearly wire-to-wire but late nail-biting 64-60 win against Colorado (16-9, 7-7). The Bruins were on full display on both ends of the court, backed by a 44% field goal percentage and forcing 14 turnovers to their five, ultimately surmounting the Buffaloes for their eighth win in the past nine games. 

“They had zero fastbreak points – they’re a top-30 team in the country in fastbreak points,” said coach Mick Cronin. “At the end of the day, we got the job done. Obviously, this team’s grown up a lot.”

Mack scored a floor-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while Bona followed with 14 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews continued his 3-point tear, going 2-of-3 from behind the arc and pitching in 13 points.

Despite the shiny offensive plays garnering raucous applause from the Pauley Pavilion contingent, the Buffaloes actually bested the Bruins in both field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

But the offensive bright spots weren’t enough to overcome the sloppy play.

UCLA attempted 12 more shots from the field than Colorado while posting 15 points off of turnovers in the first half. A usually unwavering point guard with a Pac-12 second-best 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Colorado’s KJ Simpson and the rest of the team – including potential top overall draft pick forward Cody Williams with three of his own – committed nine turnovers through the first 20 minutes. UCLA limited Simpson to a season-low four points on 1-of-7 shooting.

“KJ’s a prolific scorer,” Andrews said. “I’ve been knowing him since even before college, so just to be able to play against him again is just dope. … I feel like our team was just locked in mentally and just knowing we’ve got to stop this guy.”

Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews rises for a layup. Andrews scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds against Colorado. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Then, shades of UCLA’s Cal game came into play in the second half.

UCLA endured a five-minute scoring drought as Colorado pulled within five points. But Andrews arrived and did what he does best – pull-up in the midrange.

Another young player then began propelling the offense. This time, it was Cody Williams. With just under 10 minutes to play, Williams completed a spin-cycle, leaving Bona and junior guard Lazar Stefanovic colliding in the key. The potential one-and-done also squared up on the right wing and sank the 3-pointer in his performance for the plentiful NBA scouts dotting Pauley Pavilion, bringing the Buffaloes within two points.

Then Colorado forward Tristan da Silva slammed down a dunking equalizer.

51-51.

“We gave up some uncharacteristic layups that were really, really bad for my health,” Cronin said. “I don’t take too kindly to us breaking down and giving them layups.”

Stefanovic woke up from his shooting slumber, contributing his first points of the game with a clutch midrange and a left-wing 3-pointer. Cronin said the Utah transfer has been playing through a toe injury and will continue to battle that through the season.

Up five points, UCLA fed Mack, who relied on his signature: getting to the rim. Colorado called a timeout, and Pauley Pavilion was on its feet.

As the clock winded down, both teams took advantage of their timeouts, and Cody Williams came out of the break with a layup. With just under a minute to play, UCLA managed to hang on to a three-point lead.

When the Buffaloes came up empty on their last possession, the Bruins had done it.

UCLA achieved its longest winning streak of the season and hung on to the hope of a March Madness bid for a little longer.  

“We’ve become a family – we can’t hang our heads,” Mack said. “We stay together, we’ll be able to handle the adversity.”

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Lauryn Olina Wang | Sports senior staff
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
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