Without a doubt this was the best win for UCLA basketball this season made a bit sweeter for guys like Jordan Adams who had a bitter taste after last year.
Last year's road game against Cal was nothing short of a disaster for UCLA men's basketball, as the Bruins fell behind by 25 in the first half and eventually lost by 13.
In their home game against the Golden Bears earlier this season, the Bruins (21-5, 10-3 Pac-12) bounced back with a strong first half but let Cal sneak back into the game after halftime.
But in Wednesday night's 86-66 beat down of the Golden Bears (17-9, 8-5) in Haas Pavilion, the No. 23 Bruins finally put together a complete performance.
UCLA shot nearly 60 percent from the field, committed only six turnovers and held all of Cal's starters in single-digit scoring. Coach Steve Alford called this his team's best game of the season thus far, despite its struggles from the free-throw line, where UCLA was just 12-22.
UC Berkeley was never really that close:
UCLA scored the first six points of the game and never looked back. The Bruins built a 20-8 margin on Adams' layup with 10:39 left in the first half.
California stayed within striking distance and used a 5-0 spurt to get within four. Justin Cobbs' three-point play with 3:46 remaining made it 34-30.
But the Bruins scored the next seven points. Bryce Alford made a 3-pointer before Wear made a pair of jumpers to make it 41-30 UCLA. It was a 44-32 game at the half.
California got within nine, 50-41, early in the second half, but UCLA scored 11 of the next 14 points. Adams' jumper with 13:18 to play made it a 61-44 contest.
UCLA focused on UC Berkeley's big three and shut them down. It was the most complete game of the season:
Cal's five starters combined to shoot 10 for 30 and totaled just 32 points, barely half their season average. Starting guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace made just 3 of 17 shots from the field.
For all their offensive troubles, the Bears had just as much difficulty on defense.
Adams and Anderson got whatever they wanted, and the Bears seemed especially disorganized midway through the second half when the Bruins blew the game open with an 18-3 run. Adams scored eight points in the surge that pushed the UCLA lead to 79-52 with 6:47 left.
The Bruins seemed determined to keep their foot on the gas pedal all night.
Travis Wear finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and Kyle Anderson registered 11 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
UCLA was particularly efficient on offense, shooting 57 percent from the field, logging 21 assists and just six turnovers.
The Bruins led by double digits the entire second half, pushing their cushion to as many as 27 points with 6:47 to play in regulation.
Adams finished just two points shy of his career high, scoring 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field. The sophomore from Atlanta made 2 of 3 three-point attempts, recorded five assists and logged five steals.
Steve Alford credited the players:
We got out and ran. I thought we started the game well. I don't know if it was 11-5 or 13-5, but when you come on the road and immediately get a three to four possession lead early, it can at least set a tone. It doesn't mean that you are going to retain that all the time, but we never looked back. I don't know if we trailed at all in tonight's game, and that is hard to do in this building. It is a great credit to the guys. They were focused, they concentrated, they made shots. As a team they had 21 assists and six turnovers. You know you've got 10,000 people in here, and you are on the road and to only have six turnovers, that is a credit to the young men in that locker room.
The last time UCLA won at Haas they got lucky in the game when Jerime Anderson bounced the ball off his foot and it rolled to Michael Roll who hit the game winner. This year the Bruins are getting lucky in their season. Preseason teams ranked ahead of UCLA such as Colorado and Oregon have come apart. And Arizona is doing what they do most seasons, struggling at the end.
The Bruins hadn't won at Haas Pavilion since a 76-75 overtime victory on Jan. 6, 2010, a game capped by a Michael Roll jumper with 1.9 seconds left. There was far less drama on Wednesday night, but the team left with a far more meaningful outcome.
Whereas the 2010 win came in the midst of a 14-18 season - the second-worst of former coach Ben Howland's 10-year tenure - this one kept UCLA within striking distance of the Pac-12 lead.
A few minutes before the final buzzer in Berkeley, UCLA almost got some help over 700 miles east. Utah put a scare into No. 4 Arizona, taking the Wildcats into overtime before falling 67-63. Sean Miller's squad had been undefeated until a two-point loss at Cal on Feb. 1, and sits one game ahead of the Bruins.
UCLA's schedule is now easy the rest of the way. If they can win out Arizona looks certain to lose again maybe twice. UCLA can win at least a share of the PAC 12 title and more importantly a protected seed in the NCAA tournament. Of course the last two times UCLA won the first game of a road trip over the "better team" (Colorado and Oregon), they lost the next game.
But this was a good win and while most are rightly focusing on Jordan Adams last two big games, the other resurgent player, Travis Wear, gets the last word:
"We've been playing some good basketball as of late," forward Travis Wear said. "This is the perfect time to be doing it. I think we're really dangerous."
I hope so. Go Bruins.