UCLA played stretches of good basketball and stretches of bad basketball, and bits of basketball that hung on little more than good fortune.
Somehow, it added up to a 69-67 win at Stanford on Thursday night, the Bruins’ first outside of Los Angeles since Thanksgiving weekend.
It was a victory that moved UCLA (14-9, 6-4) into third-place tie in the Pac-12, and one that represented the team’s first significant road win of the season. It was also one that saw the Bruins — who attacked and defended well through the middle swath of the game — melt down in the final minutes, going without a field goal after 5:19 after leading by as much as 22 points.
The Cardinal (15-7, 6-4) had a chance to win on Chasson Randle’s desperation heave at the buzzer but it clanked off, leaving Arizona and Utah looking like the only teams in the conference locked into NCAA tournament berths.
UCLA took control of the game late in the first half, and stayed in the driver’s seat for several minutes. The Bruins took its first double-digit lead with 4:57 left in the opening period, having gone on a 10-2 run in just over two minutes. They also held the Cardinal scoreless for well over five minutes, their zone scheme flustering the home squad.
Stanford made a late run of its own, cutting the halftime deficit to 31-25. UCLA responded with authority out of the locker room, quickly running out with eight unanswered points to open the second half: a 3-pointer by Isaac Hamilton, a 3-point play by Kevon Looney, a layup by Bryce Alford. The Bruins led by at least 10 points until the final five minutes.
That was when it all unraveled. Alford, who finished with 18 points and an absurd 30-foot 3-pointer, didn’t do much to move the ball. He stalled a few late offensive possessions by launching jumpers, and finished with just one assist against three turnovers. UCLA had nine assists but also nine giveaways, which Stanford turned into 16 points.
His teammates threw up bricks with him, the Bruins collectively missing their last seven shots. Their final four points came at the free throw line, an area that was not particularly forgiving: UCLA went 13-of-22 at the charity stripe.
That showing nearly cost them the game. Norman Powell scored a game-high 20 points — his fourth straight outing with at least that many — but missed the front end of a one-and-one with 18 seconds left and a 67-64 lead. Randle soon raced down the floor, but lost control and careened out of bounds at the opposite baseline. He flung the ball back, and it landed in the hands of, yes, Powell.
Stanford fouled again. Powell made the first of two, and Rosco Allen hit a 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left.
As UCLA held a tenuous one-point edge, Bryce Alford took the inbound pass and the intentional foul. The team’s most reliable free throw shooter (87.6 percent entering the game) then missed the first of two, leaving Stanford an opening until Randle’s failed prayer.