This post was updated Feb. 15 at 10:22 p.m.
The Bruins forced turnovers early and often.
But when the defensive pressure didn’t show for itself in the first-half box score, their ability to again force turnovers in crunch time brought them back.
UCLA men’s basketball (15-11, 8-5 Pac-12) found itself trailing Washington (12-14, 2-11) by seven points at halftime, despite the Huskies coughing up the ball five times within the first six minutes of regulation and 11 times overall in the first half. And as the clock ticked down in Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins took the lead off turnovers by their opponents, sealing their fifth straight win at home.
“The most irrelevant stat on the stat sheet is the halftime score,” said coach Mick Cronin. “When everyone’s going out to eat after the game, the losing team (says), ‘Well we had them at halftime.’”
The Bruins came out of the second half trading blows with the Huskies until scoring six unanswered to pull within three points with less than 15 minutes to go.
At the 13:11 mark, redshirt sophomore forward Cody Riley’s shot under the basket brought the Bruins to within four points, trailing 44-40, with those points coming at the heels of a Washington turnover.
Less than three minutes later, Riley again put points on the board with an under-the-basket shot. Those points had come off a Husky turnover as well.
“It’s amazing how you become a better coach when a guy gets the ball in the basket,” Cronin said. “It’s amazing. My text messages go way up.”
With UCLA trailing 47-42 under the 10-minute mark, sophomore guard David Singleton hit a corner 3 to bring the Bruins to within two points.
“My confidence is up there now,” Singleton said. “I see one shot go in and then another and another. I’m starting to figure stuff out, learning how to take my time and execute.”
At the 6:11 mark, the Bruins forced the Huskies to cough the ball up again. Driving down the floor, junior guard Chris Smith pulled up from the 3-point line, giving the Bruins their first lead since the 4:52 mark in the first half.
With 5:45 to go, the Bruins forced another turnover, and – with the ensuing free throws – were leading the game 55-51.
A 3-pointer from Singleton pushed UCLA’s lead to 58-51 – the Bruins’ largest up to that point.
“Everyone is buying into everything Cronin is preaching,” Smith said. “Especially on the defensive end because that’s what got us back in this game. Seven games we’ve won out of the past nine, it’s all defense.”
At the two-minute mark, Washington was one for its last eight field goals.
Up by five and 1:30 to go, redshirt freshman guard Tyger Campbell drained the clock at the top of the key and got the ball to redshirt sophomore forward/center Jalen Hill – who had gone scoreless in the first half. Hill cashed in from midrange to push the Bruin lead to seven.
The Huskies were forced to foul with less than a minute to go, and free throws by Singleton, Smith and freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. sealed the game.
Washington had logged 18 turnovers as a team over the 40 minutes of play, with seven coming in the second half. The Bruins scored 25 of their points off Husky turnovers – 37.3% of their scoring total.
UCLA had managed to keep it close throughout the first 10 minutes. But with 1:08 to go in the first half, Washington had gone on an 11-0 run and jumped out to a 34-25 lead. The Huskies shot just under 60% in the half, with Husky forward RaeQuan Battle shooting 3-of-6 from deep.
Hill – who is second on the team in scoring – played one minute in the first half after picking up an early foul on the first possession of the game. He was present in the second half, however, logging 18 minutes and seven points.
Riley – whose offense provided the clinching run in UCLA’s overtime win over Washington State on Thursday – closed the first half with four points, but in the second scored 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting.
“We all believe in each other,” Smith said. “No matter what the score is or what situation we’re in, we understand that guys can make big plays. We got guys that can make big plays all over the court, on the defensive end and offensive end.”
UCLA will hit the road to take on Utah and Colorado in conference action next week.