UCLA basketball players walked off the court with sullen looks and slumped shoulders, barely mustering enough gumption to lift their arms for the post-game handshakes.
And this, after the Bruins had just won.
However it’s difficult to call UCLA’s 62-57 victory over Oregon State anything more than a win in the ledger, as the Bruins let a 17-point lead slip away through a series of chaotic moves in the second half.
A 37-22 halftime lead, spurred by a 9-0 start, gave the Bruins momentum heading into the second half. Several players had impressive first halves for UCLA, with Lazeric Jones leading the way at nine points and Malcolm Lee with seven. Even Tyler Lamb got in the act with five points.
An early second-half spurt by the Beavers cut the lead to 11, but the Bruins held strong, stretching the lead back to 17 quickly and keeping Oregon State at bay, maintaining a 16-point lead at 49-33 with just over 13 minutes left.
And then it got uglier than a warthog beauty pageant.
The Beavers cut the lead to 13…11…9.
Turnover, miss, foul, turnover, turnover. It was a broken record that sounded all too familiar.
Pretty soon UCLA led by just three, two and eventually, zero, as Oregon State tied it up at 51 with 6 minutes, 23 seconds left. Roughly 1:30 later, the Bruins appeared to be gaining team once more, taking a four-point lead.
Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham, though, hits a long rainbow three – his first field goal of the game – with 4:57 left. Then Roberto Nelson continues his hot hand and hits another three, the Beavers taking their first lead with 2:47 remaining.
It was gut-check time for UCLA, and Ben Howland went to his biggest gut.
Freshman center Joshua Smith, who was benched for Brendan Lane after being publicly reprimanded by the Pac-10 for his comments regarding officials after UCLA’s loss to USC, had two crucial rebounds and hit all four free throws with less than two minutes left.
The Bruins eked out of Corvallis with a win and now slip over to Eugene to square off against Oregon on Saturday for their first game against the Ducks at the new Matthew Knight Arena.