The good news for UCLA: Ben Howland did not cancel Christmas.
But Howland’s players feared he would have, had the Bruins not outlasted UC Irvine on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.
Two days after the Bruins needed a second-half surge to come from behind to defeat Montana State at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA eked out another win on its home court, defeating the Anteaters, 74-73, after watching a 15-point lead disappear.
The Bruins picked up their fifth-straight win but needed every last second to seal it, poor free-throw shooting down the stretch nearly proving deadly.
UCLA missed six-of-eight free throws in the final minute after the Anteaters crept back into the game, and the final miss almost sealed the Bruins’ fate.
After UC Irvine guard Darren Moore banked in a 3-pointer with eight seconds left to cut UCLA’s lead to one, freshman guard Tyler Lamb got the inbound pass and was immediately fouled.
He narrowly missed the first free throw and the second attempt caromed into the arms of Moore who sprinted down the court with the ball but was trapped in the corner, unable to get a shot off.
“That wasn’t an easy game,” Howland said. “Hopefully we learn from these experiences, we get up there and make our foul shots. If those guys step up down the stretch, we’re not coming down to the last second with them having the ball.”