By Jon Gold
Just as the UCLA men’s basketball team appears to be climbing over the mountain this season, the pole slips, the compass goes haywire and the goggles fog up.
The chugging Bruins again sputtered out on Saturday at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, parlaying a last-minute, buzzer-beating win at Cal on Wednesday into a 70-59 loss to the Cardinal in front of 6,946.
Just as they have appeared to be turning the corner this season, the Bruins have found a way to shoot themselves in the foot.
A bigger surprise: They didn’t drop the gun.
The Bruins committed 23 turnovers in a frenzied flurry of bad handles and worse passing, Stanford willing to just wait and let UCLA gaffe its way into the loss column.
After a James Keefe 3-pointer brought the Bruins to within one at 51-50 with 9 minutes, 16 seconds remaining, UCLA proceeded to give the ball away four times in its next seven possessions.
“At the end of the day, 23 turnovers is what kills us,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “Just way too many turnovers. We’re down 51-50 and we’re on a fast break and we turn it over because we’re out of control. I don’t know how many of those 23 errors are forced, but I’d say a lot of them are our mistakes.”
When the Bruins weren’t killing themselves, it was Jeremy Green’s turn.
Stanford’s sophomore shooting guard – who missed one game against the Bruins last year and went scoreless in the other – had 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting and hit 5-of-8 3-pointers. His biggest shot: an off-balance, one-legged desperation 3-point heave on the right wing that banked in as the first half expired, putting Stanford up 34-33.
UCLA seemed to be a step below Green on screens, and even when the Bruins were up in his face, he shot over them. Providing an outside threat to star forward Landry Fields’ mid-range game, Green got off to a scorching start with 17 first-half points and never cooled down.
“Shoot, he was hot,” Lee said. “Hey, Green is a terrific player. We knew his background coming in this game – as well as Fields – but he just played outstanding for them. He did have a lot of clean looks, but he also made a few well-contested shots. When a guy is going, it’s hard to stop that.”
Early in the game, UCLA kept pace by mixing up its scoring, despite a dreadful first 15 possessions.
With just more than seven minutes gone by, the Bruins were down 13-5 with seven turnovers and 2-for-8 shooting, plagued by hurried shots and poor ball movement. UCLA calmed down a bit, shooting 11-for-15 with five turnovers the rest of the way, and took its first lead with five minutes left in the first half on a jumper by senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who led the Bruins with 13 points.
In the second half, though, there was no righting the sinking ship.
“Late in the game we’re just down and trying to make things happen and it seemed like everybody was on attack mode,” said Roll, who added 12 points but had five turnovers. “We had the ball down one and that’s just where the turnovers took over. We had a bunch down late on the stretch and they capitalized and made big shots, scored every time it seemed like. We just dug ourselves a hole.”
In a way, the game was a reflection of the season: A poor start followed by a little run, a chance to break out of a funk and then disappointment.
“This loss is disappointing because it was a winnable game,” said freshman forward Reeves Nelson, who had eight points and five rebounds – but four turnovers – before fouling out. “We were the better team. But it’s really tough to win on the road – I’ve already found that out in just a few games – and that one guy just couldn’t miss. He didn’t miss.”