UCLA basketball just might be back.
Through an ugly loss to Georgetown, lackluster performances against Georgia and UCI, through an embarrassing loss to Cal Poly and a lopsided loss to San Diego State, these Bruins, frustrating though they may be, could be “back.”
This win against a decent Colorado team doesn’t prove much on its own, but it’s adding to the evidence that this UCLA squad can compete with damn near anyone in the nation.
At the same time, though, this win is indicative of UCLA’s general fragility, it’s ability to be dominant but its inability to stay dominant.
Early on, these Bruins traded blows with Colorado. Twelve lead changes and four ties between the Buffs and Bruins in the first half led to a bit of an exciting match-up in Boulder, CO at the beginning. Sure, getting out to a hot start while destroying Buffalo early would’ve been nice, but Colorado was a tournament team heading into this game and was a dark-horse for Pac-12 title contention when the season tipped off.
UCLA attacked early though, and didn’t settle for the annoying jump-shots we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from this team. Ten of the Bruins’ first 19 points came off the fast-break or inside the paint, a trend that should be the norm rather than the exception. Eclectic in nature to start, these Bruins stood aggressive, played smart, took care of the ball (something that’s a regular occurrence in 2012-13) and made sure to keep the Buffs within arms’ length.
That last part’s frustrating though, because while UCLA’s offense was crisp and fun, they weren’t very good defensively. In the first half, these Bruins were allowing these Buffs to attack, and though they didn’t always convert, UCLA was tasked with trying to not foul Colorado and in the end, that proved to be what kept Colorado in the game and able to respond. Six of Colorado’s first 12 points came off of free-throws and four of their first six buckets came inside the paint. Although Colorado missed shots, the Buffs’ aggression — and UCLA’s inability to defend the paint coupled with mediocre perimeter defense — kept them within one point of the Bruins at half-time.
The second half? That proved UCLA to be a frightening team, both for the opposition and for Bruin fans. Because in 10 minutes, UCLA had built itself seemingly-unstoppable momentum, earning a double-digit lead while suffocating the Colorado offense, at one point holding the Buffs without a field goal for seven minutes straight. The Bruins built a 13-point lead at the time and hadn’t traded blows with the Buffs like they had the entire first half.
The bad news, though, was UCLA’s quick implosion. As these Bruins are wont to do, they fell asleep and, within three minutes, UCLA’s lead had been cut to just five with four minutes to go in the contest. With the Buffs rallying, Travis Wear — a player who gets a lot of criticism, though not without warrant — bailed out the Bruins, time after time.
In fact, every time these Buffs came inching back, Travis came back with a response to keep UCLA’s head above water. The last nine points off field goals came from Travis in his late surge and it sustained until the one-minute mark, where Colorado began to foul to extend their hopes of beating UCLA. The game was within two near the end only because Jordan Adams and Larry Drew II each missed a free-throw, coupled with an extremely-long Spencer Dinwiddie three-pointer. In essence, Travis’s second-wind gave a clearly-exhausted UCLA team the momentum it needed to stave off Colorado’s rally.
These are your 2012-13 UCLA Bruins, though. This team, for some reason, is incapable of being boring, incapable of blowing out teams wire-to-wire and incapable of sustaining those double-digit leads, at least up to this point. This UCLA team takes its foot off the opposition’s throat and allows these kinds of aggressive rallies from teams, and these Bruins should expect teams to go hard in the final minutes to win games because wins over a college basketball powerhouse like UCLA mean something to teams like Colorado, record be damned.
At the same time, though, UCLA’s ability to build double-digit leads over a team like Colorado — one that should adjust after a rough start to their Pac-12 season, and is likely a tournament team come March — is impressive. Colorado’s not a joke team and being on the verge of blowing them out would turn heads no matter what. This team, after all, had come into this game with an 11-4 record with their four losses coming against squads with a combined record of 47-5 (Arizona State, Kansas, Wyoming and Arizona).
But these Bruins didn’t finish strong and felt comfortable for the third-straight game in a row. These Bruins are now one of two front-runners to win this conference (the other being Arizona) but in order to actually take home the conference title, and in order to get deep enough into the tournament to not be considered a fraud by college basketball standards, they’ll need to step on throats aggressively and play 40 minutes of hoops.
It won’t be surprising if UCLA learns to do that and it sure as hell won’t be surprising if the Bruins never figure it out.
But it’s worth your attention.