HONOLULU — Unleashing NCAA tournament-level intensity in the first half, unranked UCLA showed that it could be an unexpected force in March.
Almost fully unraveling in the second half, the Bruins displayed how much work remains to get there.
After a wildly vacillating game against Marquette in which the Bruins’ 12-point lead became a seven-point deficit, they had the ball trailing by two with 21 seconds left. UCLA coach Mick Cronin called time out to set up a play. It was disrupted after the Golden Eagles tipped the ball out of bounds with 8.8 seconds to go.
UCLA got two more chances but came up empty both times. Lazar Stefanovic’s three-pointer missed and a wild Sebastian Mack shot off his offensive rebound was off the mark, leaving the Bruins with a 71-69 loss to the No. 4 Golden Eagles at the Stan Sheriff Center in the opening around of the Maui Invitational.
The Bruins (3-1) will play tournament host Chaminade on Thursday in a losers bracket game.
Mack finished with a career-high 25 points and sophomore center Adem Bona added 13 for the Bruins, who allowed Marquette (4-0) to shoot 54.2% in the second half.
UCLA earned a standing ovation from its fans early in the second half when Bona drove for a vicious two-handed dunk, giving the Bruins a 43-33 lead. The lead grew to 12 points after Mack drove for a tough, contested layup.
Everything was going the Bruins’ way. Then nothing was.
Marquette’s Oso Ighodaro drove for a dunk over Bona and Berke Buyuktuncel, igniting his team on a 17-0 run that included an assist from Bona for a ferocious elbow that earned him a technical foul. By the time Ighodaro threw down another dunk over Buyuktuncel, the Golden Eagles were up 46-45 and their contingent of fans that included alumnus and former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade was roaring.
What had been a UCLA runaway was suddenly tilting heavily in the other direction as Marquette took a 50-45 lead before Bruins freshman guard Ilane Fibleuil buried a three-pointer.
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