After what had happened to their beloved football team in San Diego - and since Thanksgiving to be honest - Bruin Nation needed this.
Although they had won their last few games, UCLA’s basketball program was hurting.
Not only had they fallen out of the top 25 after losing to San Diego State in the John Wooden Classic, two of their players, Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith, left the team for various reasons, and another player, Tony Parker, had recently tweeted that he was unhappy in Westwood over his lack of playing time.
To add to all of this, the rumblings to fire coach Ben Howland have remained steady.
So in the face of all of that, they go out on Friday night in (new) Pauley Pavilion and beat the nation’s 7th-ranked team, the Missouri Tigers, 97-94, coming back from nine points down with 3:27 left in the game to force overtime and truly stepping up in those five minutes.
A large and pumped-up crowd of 11, 854 saw a contest that will undoubtedly help UCLA’s resume in March.
Except for that nine-point deficit in the second half, and an early Bruin run to take a 23-11 lead in the first half, the game was pretty even as it was tied at 47 after 20 minutes and tied at 88 after regulation.
The Wear twins, David and Travis, had their best game as Bruins, Travis scoring a career-high 22 points along with a game-high nine rebounds with David adding 16 points and six boards. It was “…their best collective performance,” Howland praised.
It was Shabazz Muhammad’s three pointer with about a minute left in OT that put the final dagger in Mizzou. His 27 points led everyone and his three baskets from behind the arc were crucial.
“This is one of the biggest wins we could possibly get,” he said.
Jordan Adams’ putback shot with 11 seconds left in regulation that put the game in overtime, combined with some gutsy stops on defense, was likewise crucial to the Bruin win.
It seemed like staying on campus and practicing on Christmas Day was worth it, as Howland commented afterwards, “This was an important win for us. I’m happy our guys kept fighting.”
To which UCLA should get much credit for after all of the drama during this early part of a campaign in which, considering the top-notch freshmen that they have, much is expected.
Now that the Bruins have won five straight and are 10-3 – which looks so much better than 9-4 – they can focus on the Pac-12 slate which, with Arizona being the only ranked team from that conference at number three, is full of games that are winnable, provided that these hoopsters continue to play to their potential and keep that same intensity that they showed against Missouri.
As 2013 approaches, it will be very interesting to see if UCLA can build on this momentum that they generated on Friday.
NEXT OPPONENT: California Golden Bears, Pauley Pavilion, Thursday January 3, 8:00 p.m.