Let’s start with the biggest story of the game last night: The last 1.5 seconds. Dimitri breaks it down best in his postgame. But unfortunately, to be fair, I have to write words I never thought I would say on a UCLA blog: Thank you, Steve Lavin.
The Bruins had four turnovers in the final five minutes to no assists. Alford joked the only assist his team got down the stretch was from former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, who was calling the game on Pac-12 Networks. Lavin helped the referees during their long delay at the end of the game.
But, really, this should not be the story of the game. The story of the game should not be told in the last 1.5 seconds that went on for an eternity. Let’s use the other Steve, Steve Alford:
Alford broke the game into three pieces: a first half in which his team played well but had to make a couple adjustments, 16 minutes of “beautiful basketball” and four minutes of selfish play.
UCLA was outscored 36-33 in the first half. But, worse, UCLA was outrebounded by a smaller, less athletic South Dakota team. As GG Goloman said:
It was a definitely a big part of why it was a close game at halftime. They had a couple of offensive rebounds and we definitely had a size advantage so we were not satisfied.
GG was guilty of making an understatement. Thuc Nhi Nguyen continues her excellent reporting with this key nugget:
The Coyotes, with only one starter taller than 6-foot-6, outrebounded the Bruins 24-13 in the first half and had a two-point advantage in the paint. South Dakota had nine offensive rebounds to UCLA’s two.
UCLA was settling for threes, many by Thomas Welsh. In the second half, UCLA attacked the paint:
UCLA overcame a three-point halftime deficit with a stellar start to the second half. The Bruins made their first six field goals after the break and had 22 assists to just nine turnovers in the first 35 minutes of the game. . . .
After only 14 points in the paint in the first half, UCLA piled up 26 points down low in the second.
All of Chris Smith’s 10 points were in the paint and, as Steve Alford likes to say, “zero footers.” (I promise to stop after today but, ugh, he did help with this game.) As Steve Alford said:
Start of the second half and all the way to the final four minutes of the half it was beautiful basketball. It was probably the best basketball we’ve played for quite some time. Now there’s four minute to go in the game and our defensive efficiency is under 85 and that’s great. Our offensive efficiency is over 110 and that’s great. We had 22 assists and nine turnovers at that time. So the game was played very well.
And then came the last four minutes:
But the Coyotes battled back, going on a 28-6 surge behind Peterson and Armstrong in the final five minutes to cut it to 84-82 with 1.7 seconds left following Armstrong's 3-pointer.
As the Daily Bruin described those ugly last four minutes:
The Bruins tallied 13 assists in the first 16 minutes of the second half, but didn’t get any in the game’s final four minutes – a span during with the Bruins also committed four turnovers. The Coyotes never reclaimed the lead, but they got within three when time expired.
“The last four minutes were selfish, it wasn’t very smart basketball,” Alford said. “So it was a great teaching point for me … what we looked like when we’re unselfish playing together versus what we looked like when we were selfish and not playing as a team – I think that was a valuable lesson for our guys tonight.”
Ben Bolch put it differently:
The Bruins averted disaster after losing nearly all of a 24-point lead with five minutes left, their fate determined by officials and a replay monitor. . . .
The Bruins prevailed after considerable embarrassment at the beginning and the end, trailing for most of the first half before withstanding an epic comeback or collapse, depending on one’s perspective.
Collapse or comeback? In the context of the Michigan game, collapse seems like a more apt description. This time, there is no tired excuse.