They needed this one.
And it wasn’t easy; nor was it pretty.
First off, UCLA was without forward Travis Wear, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the Bruins’ loss to the Washington Huskies two nights before.
And they didn’t play particularly wonderfully against Washington State’s Cougars in the Palouse, as Brock Motum torched Ben Howland’s squad for 19 points in the first half, with Wazzu taking a 34-29 lead after the game’s first 20 minutes.
As for the second 20 minutes?
Apparently it was a combination of Howland implementing a 2-3 zone defense, the Bruins getting fed up with playing below their capability, and them not wanting to get swept on the road for the second straight time, because UCLA held Washington State without a point for over five crucial minutes in that second half, and the Bruins showed tremendous grit and guts in beating the Cougars, 63-60, in front of 4,204 disappointed fans at Pullman’s Beasley Coliseum.
The win was UCLA’s 19th straight over the Cougars, and only their second triumph on the road this season.
Not only that, it marked the Bruins’ first road victory outside of Southern California over a Division I oppo, the one wenent, if one can believe that.
“…it (was) important for us to get this win on the road,” Howland said afterwards. “And we needed it desperately.”
There’s no disputing that Joshua Smith had a breakout weekend; he fouled out on Saturday, but not before he followed up his 24-point performance across the state in Seattle with a team-leading 19 points to go along with five rebounds.
The key with this center now is to perform like he did in the Evergreen State, the one where Bella Swan and her beloved Edward Cullen hang out, on a nightly basis.
David Wear and Lazeric Jones scored 15 points apiece, with Wear leading UCLA with six boards as he, along with Smith and everyone else, did a good job in overcoming the loss of David’s brother Travis, though the Bruins had to sweat it out at the end when Wazzu made a three-pointer with eight seconds left.
Then Jones was fouled with 1.7 seconds remaining and made one of the two free throws, missing the second attempt, but fortunately for UCLA, the Cougars ran out of time and the Bruins got their 13th win and their sixth in the Pac-12 Conference.
Despite Anthony Stover, who started in place of Travis Wear, not even attempting a basket and collecting four fouls in 17 minutes.
Despite Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson combining to go a bad 4-of-14 from the floor.
And despite the Bruins shooting 44.8% for the game; the fact that they held Washington State (12-11, 4-7 in the Pac-12) to only 37.7% from the floor was a key on Saturday.
Now at 13-10 and 6-5, this team has two crucial games coming up against the Bay Area schools, Stanford and California, who beat UCLA over New Year’s Eve weekend.
Which will be the start of , as Howland put it, “…a real tough stretch here.”