We saw the good and the bad of UCLA's season in the Bruins' opening round game against SMU. The season was encapsulated in 40 frustrating minutes against the Mustangs. If the Bruins were hoping to use this game to prove that they deserved their tourney bid, a lot of viewers will remain unconvinced.
Both teams started slowly. The Mustangs missed their first four shots before Cannen Cunningham knocked down a 3. The Bruins turned the ball over on three straight possessions before Kevon Looney put back a missed jumper by Norman Powell.
After three-pointers by Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, and a basket by Looney, UCLA held its biggest lead of the half at 10-5.
At that point, Steve Alford switched to a 3-2 zone, and SMU's Nic Moore connected on 2 consecutive three-pointers. But the Mustangs held the lead for less than a minute. Powell blocked a jumper by Moore, collected the loose ball, drove the length of the court to finish at the rim while getting fouled.
For the next 4 minutes, UCLA and SMU took turns trying to hold onto the lead, with neither team able to build more than a two point cushion. Tony Parker picked up his second foul with 8:52 left in the half, and Thomas Welsh replaced him for the rest of the half.
A spectacular one-handed reverse dunk by Powell gave UCLA a three point lead, but the Mustangs continued to stay close and tied the game at 27 with 2:53 left in the half.
A pair of free throws by Norman Powell with under a minute remaining in the half pushed the UCLA lead up to five. Nic Moore then hit his third three-pointer of the half, but Powell replied with a short jumper to give the Bruins a 34-30 halftime lead.
The second half started the same way the first half had. In the opening two minutes, SMU and UCLA combined to commit four turnovers and miss the first five shots of the half. Bryce Alford scored the first points of the half on a three-pointer from the corner, giving the Bruins their biggest lead of the game, 37-30.
Two minutes later, the Bruins had their first double digit lead of the game. Kevon Looney put back a Hamilton miss to give UCLA a 40-30 lead.
The Mustangs chipped away at the lead, but the Bruins started pushing the ball. Looney grabbed a rebound, dribbled the length of the court, and dished to Powell for a dunk. A second fast break led to two Powell free throws, pushing the UCLA lead back to 10, 44-34.
Both teams went cold for the next three minutes. Finally Nic Moore nailed his fourth three-pointer, and SMU was back within 6 with a little more than 9 minutes left.
A minute later, UCLA's lead had been trimmed to one. Another three by Moore cut the Bruins' lead in half, and defensive pressure on Bryce Alford at half-court led to a steal and score for the Mustangs.
While the Bruins struggled to find a way to score, SMU's offense came to life. Two more three-pointers by Nic Moore, and a couple of baskets by Kennedy gave SMU a nine point lead, 53-44. Meanwhile, the Bruins had gone over eight and a half minutes without scoring.
Norman Powell finally broke the Bruins scoreless streak with a layup, and Bryce Alford followed with a three to narrow the SMU lead to 53-49 with 3:40 left.
After two free throws by Moore, Bryce Alford knocked down a difficult three-pointer from the corner to bring the Bruins within three at 55-52.
A layup by Yanick Moreira pushed SMU's lead back to five, and a dunk off a turnover by Norman Powell at half-court extended the Mustang's lead to 59-52 with 1:25 left.
UCLA didn't give up, though. Bryce Alford hit another three to close the gap to four. The Bruins let SMU run clock, but earned a defensive stop. At the other end, Norman Powell hit two free throws to inch the Bruins to within two with 29 seconds left.
The Bruins trapped the inbounds pass and managed to steal the ball at half-court. UCLA called a timeout with 22 seconds left on the clock, presumably to set up a play for Bryce Alford. The result was pretty ugly, with Bryce heaving a three-point attempt with 13 seconds remaining. It wasn't going in, but the Bruins were the fortunate recipients of a goaltending call, handing UCLA the lead, 60-59.
Thirteen seconds later, it was over. Nic Moore missed a three, and the Bruins escaped with a narrow come from behind victory. Whether or not it was a deserved victory is open to debate.
Bryce Alford led all scorers with 27 points on 9 three-pointers. Norman Powell contributed 19 points and Kevon Looney added 9 boards. Nic Moore led the Mustangs with 24 points.
The Bruins showed some of their worst traits tonight. But they survived, somehow, and move on to play the UAB Blazers in the round of 32.
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