I mentioned it the other day following the Stanford game, but there's a reason I think these two wins were better than the four straight routs that UCLA put together a few weeks ago. That reason is heart. For two straight games, the Bruins showed the courage to come back from a second half deficit and pull out a road victory. I'm not convinced that UCLA will put together another long tournament run, but if they do, look no further than the way they rebounded from a very poor performance against Washington State.
The key today was senior leadership. The three senior starters combined for 46 points. Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya had 12 each, and Darren Collison finished with 22, including 16 in the second half. He was awesome down the stretch, and his finish in the lane with under a minute to play turned out to be a back breaker. Berkeley, choosing not to foul while trailing by four with under a minute left, decided to let the possession play out. They let the Bruins run 30 seconds off the clock and end up with two points after another typically great Collison drive to the hoop. Collison also finished with six assists and one turnover.
Neither Aboya nor Shipp had terrific shooting games, but they both made big shots at big times. Aboya made another clutch free throw, canning the front end of a one and one that made it a full two possession lead with 1:11 to go. Shipp did most of his damage in the first 35 minutes, but he kept the Bruins in the game up to the point where Collison decided to take over. Nikola Dragovic fought off the effects of illnes to finish with 12 points, while Jrue Holliday poured in eight points. Michael Roll rounded out the scoring for the Bruins with six.
Strange play in the first half, which turned out to be key, when Dragovic drove to the basket for a layup. He was held from behind, and the referees ruled that the foul was intentional. UCLA got the two points, two free throws, and the ball. Dragovic made both field goals, and Michael Roll hit a three pointer from the corner for what turned out to be a seven point play. It turned a five point deficit into a two point lead. Honestly, I think it was the right call. Theo Robertson was not attempting to make a play on the ball. He was beat, and he tried to grab Dragovic to prevent the basket. It wasn't flagrant, but it was clearly intentional. That said, I agree with Bobby Knight and Jay Bilas that the rule is poorly worded. Evey foul at the end of the game is intentional, but not called intentional. How about a rule that penalizes intentional fouls so long as they aren't strategic? There's a strategic aspect to fouls at the end of a game. There's nothing strategic about getting beat and pouting by grabbing your opponent.
This keeps the Bruins' hopes for a shot at a fourth straight Pac 10 title (albeit shared) alive. Wazzu needs to beat Washington, a distinct possibility with as well as the Cougars have been playing. UCLA gets the Oregon schools at home, and they should both be fairly easy victories, but you never really know with this team. But I am encouraged by their courage. This was not an easy trip, especially coming off a bad loss, and they responded to the adversity, walking out of Maples and Haas with two victories. Let's hope it's a sign of things to come.