With the conference title and No. 1 seed already out of reach, UCLA did the next-best thing on Sunday: clinching a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
With a 74-69 win over Oregon State on Sunday, Steve Alford and company ensured themselves no worst than a top-four finish in conference. Still, the Bruins might hope for the bracket opposite the Beavers in Las Vegas.
After upsetting UCLA in Corvallis last month, OSU hung around all night at Pauley Pavilion — keeping all 9,873 fans in their seats until the final buzzer. The Beavers’ athletic big men measure up well against the Bruins’ middling post defense, and they exploited the matchup almost immediately.
Center Angus Brandt scored the team’s first seven points. Oregon State scored 16 of its first 26 points in the paint. By halftime, Brandt, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland — all of whom stand at least 6-foot-8 — had combined for 16 points.
The roster shot 56 percent from the field.
“They really try to pound it inside,” UCLA forward Travis Wear said. “There’s not a lot of teams in our league that try to consistently go in the post as much as we do. … That gets tiring sometimes.”
Coupled with a big game from senior guard Roberto Nelson, the Beavers did enough to lead for nearly half the contest. The conference’s leading scorer scored just 12 points the last time he saw the Bruins, but matched that total at the break.
By game’s end, he had 23 points, five rebounds and five assists. The performance marked the end of a mini-slump; Nelson had failed to hit 20 points in his last five outings, and was only 3-of-17 from the arc through that stretch.
He was 4-of-6 from downtown on Sunday, and 6-of-10 overall. He also helped spur the Beavers’ 10-2 run to close the first half, starting off the stretch with a 3-pointer and closing with a jumper. Oregon State walked into the locker room with a commanding 38-29 lead.
UCLA coach Steve Alford was so incensed with his players’ effort, he shed his jacket in the locker room. He didn’t throw it, opting instead to hang it nicely on a chair, but the talk worked.
The Bruins shot 50 percent from the 3-point line in the second half, and attempted 17 free throws. They held Oregon State to 38.5 percent shooting. Brandt only scored two points in the second half.
“I thought the guys adjusted well to post play,” Alford said. “Early in the game, we were getting really hurt.”