Our UCLA Bruins trounced Stanford in Los Angeles 72-61 on Thursday night, keeping their undefeated, in-conference home record safe from harm.
The crazy thing about this game? It was the same as any other, except for the final few minutes.
That speaks volumes about the story of our season. Despite having the same issues, the same flaws offensively and defensively, UCLA’s been in numerous similar situations, be it up by a few points with a couple of minutes to go (as they were Thursday night) or up huge early in the game (as they started the game with a 25-9 lead). The game of basketball is a game of runs (get your mind out of the gutter, nasty) so it isn’t as if the second-half surge by Stanford was something to be pissed off about. Rather, had UCLA lost this game — as they have done so many times in similar situations — we’d be talking about the same things we’re going to talk about now. Here were some key points and implications of the game:
Free-throw shooting. Why don’t teams just hack-a-Bruin? For the kajillionth time this season, UCLA’s piss-poor free-throw shooting nearly cost them the game. We were 17-for-26 from the line and missed FT after FT after Stanford had begun to foul late to extend the game. And while in the end it didn’t matter, the fact of the matter is that, if our shots from the charity stripe went in more consistently, we’d have at least three more wins than we have now, in-conference.
We didn’t choke. For the first time this season, UCLA looked really damned composed late in the game (or at least relative to other close games all year), something we highlighted not too long ago. Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones came up huge late in the contest to propel our Bruins to a late-game surge to put a team away. Considering the way our season has been, it’s not a stretch to say this was the first time “putting a team away” was used in an affirmative sense in relation to our basketball squad.
No, dude, we didn’t play that well on defense. The way the box-score looks, we did pretty damn well on defense. But that’s why games are televised — because box-scores don’t tell the entire story. Late, as Stanford surged to pull within three points, David and Travis Wear struggled to keep up with penetrators down low. Easy shot after easy shot for Stanford nearly lost us the game. Something tells me that, if Stanford had continued to take even the tiniest lead available to them, we might not be talking about how great of a win this was. Speaking of …
This was a great win. With 10 losses under our belts, “great wins” are consolation prizes. What this says, though, is that this team is capable of winning tight games consistently when they keep their composure. Mental toughness plays a huge role here, because as we’ve seen time and time again, they cannot put teams away on the road, when composure is tested to the max. That’s how we lost the majority of our road losses in-conference, and until we figure out how to stay composed in hostile environments, don’t expect us to get too far.
That said, let’s have some faith. We can be pessimistic and sarcastic all we want, but being hopeful and cheering on your team is never a bad thing.
Implications: We are still sixth in the Pac-12 standings, but with the conference’s parity (a result from everyone in the conference sucking), we’re only two games out of the top spot (remarkably). With all of our “tough” games remaining are at home (vs. Cal and Washington) and our easy games on the road (save for Arizona), it wouldn’t be too much to ask for a 7-1 record to finish out the season, 6-2 at worst. If our composure carries on to road games, or if we build an insurmountable lead — we’re talking 50 points because this is UCLA , remember? — we should have a legit shot at topping the regular season standings.
Of course, this team has been pretty horrible on the road, but if the squad can pull their crap together, perhaps we’ll be surprised.