UCLA head coach Ben Howland waved his head in disgust and then smacked his right hand directly on his forehead, his shoulders collapsing.
The Bruins chased Cal around the court all night, particularly spectacular guard Jorge Gutierrez, and couldn’t catch the Bears.
Right when they needed to catch up the most – simply fouling a Bear, any Bear, as the dwindling seconds dripped off the clock in overtime – they couldn’t. With a two-point lead, Cal dribbled out the clock after a Jerime Anderson layup, UCLA was not able to foul until just .7 seconds remained, and Gutierrez knocked down two free throws to give the Bears the 76-72 win at Haas Pavilion.
Howland was shaken to the core, simply heartbroken.
For all of UCLA’s guts and heart down the stretch in Sunday’s matchup at Cal to end like…this?
The Bruins were quiet and morbid after coming all the way back from a 13-point deficit but ultimately losing for the first time in seven games.
“We felt like it was meant to be for us to win that game,” UCLA sophomore small forward Tyler Honeycutt said. “For us to lose like that probably hurts more.”
Perhaps it’s not a surprise Gutierrez outran the Bruins; he left them in his dust all night.
The Chihuahua, Mexico, product played like a Great Dane, scurrying all over the court for the Bears, weaving his way into traffic, darting into the post, leading all scorers with 34 points – the most UCLA has allowed all season – including nine points in overtime.
“Their coach found something that was working for them and they exploited it all night,” said UCLA junior guard Malcolm Lee, who led the team with 19 points. “They were running him off of picks, high pick and rolls, doubles. Nothing broke, why fix it? … We just have to get back in the lab and basically fix this problem.”
But Gutierrez’ biggest play was not one of his brilliant coast-to-coast layups, or his conniving thievery or even his outside game.
With 14 seconds left in overtime and no options at the top of the key, Gutierrez delivered a bullet to teammate Brandon Smith in the right corner for a wide-open 3-pointer, giving Cal an insurmountable four-point lead.
“I had a feeling I was going to get another three,” Smith said. “When (Gutierrez) drove I made sure I was ready to knock it down. When he passed it to me it wasn’t right in my shot pocket, and there was a guy coming out. I thought, ‘I am still going to stick this,’ and it went in.”
Forget four points in overtime: Given UCLA’s play for much of the first 22 minutes, it seemed Cal’s 13-point lead early in the second half would have been too much to overcome.
With 7:26 left in the first half, UCLA trailed 21-11, had seven turnovers and that vaunted balance that the Bruins highlight was out in full force: no player had more than two points.
It took a little time – and a couple of Honeycutt 3-pointers – but UCLA finally got into a zone.
Howland, who maintained throughout the season that he would not switch from his standard man-to-man, made the change with Cal leading 37-31 and 14:30 left, and the Bruins took off.
“The zone stopped the bleeding a lot,” Lee said. “Although they were scoring in the zone, it was more like one out of three times, as opposed to scoring every time against the man. Zone is the reason we got back in the game.”
That, and one humongous Lee shot.
Lee hit a fading 26-foot 3-pointer as time expired, or more appropriately, after time expired, as the ball hit the front of the rim, the clock hit zero, and the ball dropped in.
The two teams certainly have a flair for the dramatic.
Last season, UCLA senior guard Michael Roll hit a 13-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left to lift the Bruins to a 76-75 lead at Cal.
In the teams’ first matchup at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 21, sophomore forward Reeves Nelson tipped in a short Honeycutt jumper at the buzzer to give the Bruins an 86-84 win.
This one finally went Cal’s way, though, breaking a four-game losing streak and ending UCLA’s scorching streak, as the Bruins had won 10-of-11 and 16-of-19.
“When you get on a winning streak, you kind of forget about reality,” Lee said. “Basically this slaps us back to reality. ‘Yo, we’re still trying to fight to get into the tournament.’ When we were on the streak, everything was all good, we were feeling all gravy, ‘Yeah, we’re getting into the tournament.’ This kind of levels us. It gets us back down, and we have to start from square one again.”