Defensive battle swings UCLA’s way in tough road loss for CU Buffs

Bruins out-execute Buffs down the stretch

Photo courtesy UCLA athletics
UCLA’s Jules Bernard, right, drives to the basket while being guarded by Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz during their game at UCLA on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Dan Liebig/UCLA Athletics)

It seemed as if it might be a good night for the Colorado Buffaloes to catch a UCLA team reeling from an injury revelation that will affect its entire season.

The Bruins didn’t have wing Chris Smith, who will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL on Thursday against Utah. Yet UCLA still had more than enough in the tank to outlast the Buffs, as the Bruins were able to make more plays down the stretch in a back-and-forth contest to send CU back to Boulder with a 65-62 defeat at Pauley Pavilion Saturday night.

The setback gave CU losses in two of its three games on a Pac-12 Conference-opening road swing.

“We couldn’t get enough consecutive stops in a row down the stretch,” CU point guard McKinley Wright IV said. “We just needed to get a couple kills (three straight stops) in the second half and we failed to do so. It was tough for us to get over that hump, and obviously we couldn’t get over it tonight.”

Wright tied the game at 54-54 with a 3-point play with 5 minutes, 1 second remaining, but UCLA answered with an 8-1 run to take a 62-55 lead with 2:15 remaining.

Consecutive drives from Maddox Daniels and Wright cut the Bruins’ lead to three points with a minute remaining. The Buffs had chances over the final sequence but couldn’t come up with a key bucket. A block by Wright gave CU the ball back with under 30 seconds remaining, but two looks by Daniels from 3-point range went awry.

“In these close games, conference games, especially on the road, the margin for error goes down significantly,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “It might be a turnover here or an offensive rebound there or a missed layup here. We had some open looks we didn’t make. But it was a hell of a college basketball game. High level, especially on the defensive end. And I think both teams will get better offensively as the year plays out.

Colorado’s Jeriah Horne, left, dribbles the basketball against UCLA on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Dan Liebig/UCLA Athletics)

“Tonight was a defensive battle. (UCLA) is so quick in their rotations you have a split second to make a play or make a shot. There were times we did a good job of that. There were times we didn’t.”

In a battle between two of the top defenses in the Pac-12, UCLA held the Buffs to a season-low 3-point mark of .261 (6-for-23).

Two days after superb interior defense against a bigger USC team allowed CU to post a key road win, foul trouble kept the Buffs vulnerable in the paint against the Bruins. Playing their second game without injured 7-footer Dallas Walton, Evan Battey was forced to the bench for more than nine minutes in the second half after picking up three fouls within the first 4:37 after halftime. Freshman Jabari Walker also was saddled with four fouls in just eight minutes of action, and UCLA took advantage to post a 38-28 edge on points in the paint.

UCLA also outrebounded the Buffs 31-29.

“We feel like this was a winnable game,” Boyle said. “(Smith’s injury) opened up an opportunity for us to get a game tonight. They were still finding themselves a little bit. I thought they got tired in the second half and we just weren’t able to get over the hump.”

Fast break

What went right: The Buffs played solid perimeter defense, holding the Bruins to a 3-for-15 mark on 3-pointers while forcing 14 turnovers.

What went wrong: CU shot a season-low 6-for-23 on 3-pointers and struggled with its interior defense, getting outscored 38-28 in the paint.

Star of the game: Point guard McKinley Wright IV didn’t have his best game, but he still finished with 12 points, three rebounds, and three assists with only one turnover in 29 minutes.

What’s next: The Buffs are scheduled to play their next four games at home beginning Thursday against Oregon (9 p.m., FS1).

UCLA 65, Colorado 62

COLORADO (7-3, 1-2)

Battey 3-7 1-2 7, Horne 3-9 2-2 10, Parquet 4-5 2-2 10, Wright 5-10 1-1 12, Schwartz 2-7 0-2 5, Daniels 3-8 4-4 12, Barthelemy 3-6 0-0 6, Walker 0-0 0-0 0, da Silva 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 10-13 62.

UCLA (7-2, 3-0)

Riley 4-6 2-2 10, Bernard 4-7 3-4 12, Campbell 5-11 0-0 11, Juzang 3-10 4-4 10, Jaquez 6-12 1-1 14, Hill 3-3 2-3 8, Singleton 0-1 0-0 0, Kyman 0-2 0-0 0, Clark 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-53 12-14 65.

Halftime — 29-29. 3-point goals — Colorado 6-23 (Horne 2-6, Daniels 2-7, Schwartz 1-2, Wright 1-4, Battey 0-1, da Silva 0-1, Barthelemy 0-2), UCLA 3-15 (Bernard 1-2, Jaquez 1-3, Campbell 1-4, Clark 0-1, Kyman 0-1, Singleton 0-1, Juzang 0-3). Rebounds — Colorado 29 (Battey 6), UCLA 31 (Bernard 7). Assists — Colorado 9 (Wright 3), UCLA 13 (Campbell 7). Total fouls — Colorado 14, UCLA 13.