LOS ANGELES — Tyger Campbell took the inbounds pass as a timeout was called, allowing the UCLA point guard to unleash his fury on a ball that he slammed to the court with both hands.
The lifeless Bruins had just given up another layup to Washington, looking as if they might come out on the embarrassing end of a matchup between the Pac-12 Conference’s first- and last-place teams.
As the Bruins’ defense continued to falter Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, leading to their first double-digit halftime deficit of the season, the frustration carried over into the locker room.
Coach Mick Cronin berated his players for their defense and worried how they would counteract the Huskies’ quickness.
“Coach got into us,” Bruins guard Jules Bernard said, “but we’re all players who can take yelling and take a coach getting into us; it sort of fuels us coming into the second half.”
UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. provided a sample of the needed toughness when he ripped the ball away from Quade Green on Washington’s first possession of the second half. The Bruins were on their way to six consecutive defensive stops that sparked their offense and helped them wipe out the 10-point halftime deficit.
Finally, after Jaylen Clark contested a three-pointer that could have tied the score with 14 seconds left, UCLA could exhale, the Bruins’ comeback complete, their perfect conference record intact following an 81-76 victory over the Huskies.
Cronin sounded more exasperated than relieved after the Bruins (11-2 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) notched their sixth consecutive victory overall and secured their best start in conference play since they also won their first seven games to start the 1993-94 season, a year before their last national championship.
“We’ve got to have a better sense of maturity about who we are in preparation for a game like today,” Cronin said. “In my opinion, we thought we were just going to show up and they were going to quit. They came to play. And we, fortunately, were able to dig out the victory.”
Much of the recovery efforts belonged to Bernard and Cody Riley. Bernard scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half, making four of seven three-pointers for the game to go with a team-high nine rebounds. Riley scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime, mostly going against 7-foot-4 center Riley Sorn.
“Personally,” Riley said, “my mind-set was just to be more aggressive.”
Riley’s jump hook over Sorn gave the Bruins a 71-70 lead that Campbell extended with back-to-back jumpers. When Jaquez (15 points) drove from the corner for a two-handed dunk, UCLA held a 77-70 advantage with 1:34 left and it looked as if the Bruins had withstood the final charge from the Huskies (1-11, 0-7), whose last win came Dec. 9 against Seattle.
But Washington, which was led by Green’s 25 points, scored four quick points to make it 77-74 and got the ball back with 30 seconds left after Bernard missed a jumper. Cronin inserted Clark coming out of a timeout, and the move paid off when the freshman guard closed in on Erik Stevenson, the Huskies’ top three-point shooter. Stevenson’s shot bounced off the back of the rim, and Clark grabbed the rebound with 12 seconds left, getting fouled.
The Bruins made enough free throws the rest of the way to hold on in the fifth game decided by five points or fewer during their winning streak.
Some perseverance was needed after the efficient offense and high-level shot-making that had led to a 30-point rout of Washington State just two days earlier went missing against the Huskies.
UCLA won despite shooting 41% to Washington’s 52% because it took care of the ball, committing none of its six turnovers in the second half, and started playing defense. The Bruins generated three of their five steals and both of their blocks after halftime.
“Oftentimes when we have good halves, our defense sparks our offense,” Bernard said, “so we sort of picked it up in the second half, got some steals, got out in transition, and I think that that helped us out a lot on offense.”©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.