It was a struggle over the last ten minutes. UCLA fans were probably flashing back to the ASU debacle from earlier in the season as an 11 point lead was slowly whittled down to one, giving VCU's Eric Maynor a chance to win the game in final seconds. But the Bruins forced VCU to use more clock than they probably would have liked, Maynor mishandled the ball a bit before the final shot, and the ball fell off the front end of the rim, giving the Bruins a one point victory as the clock expired.
This was really kind of a strange game for the Bruins. They struggled to pull away early, but finished the first half on a 13-2 run over the final five minutes to take a 10 point lead into the half. The second half was a bit up and down, with teams trading scores until about the six and a half minute mark. What happened then may have been the turning point in the game had the game ended differently. With an 11 point lead, Jrue Holiday made a nice move to get to the basket, but fumbled the ball a bit on the way to the hoop and blew the lay up. A quick strike by VCU the other way turned what should have been a 13 point lead turned into a 9 point lead, and things continued to tighten until the final buzzer.
Contributions came from many hands tonight. Josh Shipp led the Bruins with 16 points and added 8 rebounds. He had two baskets early in the second half when the Bruins were struggling to make field goals. Nikola Dragovic had average offensive numbers, but his 13 rebounds were key. Jrue Holiday played very well in a key second half stretch after Darren Collison picked up his fourth foul. As for Collison, he struggled with fouls, and did not have a very nice line (2 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls), but finished with ten points. Alfred Aboya grabbed seven boards, but his key numbers were his four steals and 5 free throws made in 5 attempts, including the Bruins' final two points. The surprising number for me was 0. That's the comined number of minutes played by Drew Gordon and Malcolm Lee. With Collison's foul trouble, and the size up front for VCU (mainly Larry Sanders) I expected each of those guys to see the floor, but Ben Howland really shortened the bench. [update: Per Brian Dohn, Drew Gordon did not play because of a concussion he suffered earlier in the week].
As for the Rams, Sanders had 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with floor blocks. It seemed like altered at least 10 shots, and he was a force inside. Eric Maynor led all scorers with 21 points, 15 of them in the second half. And pardon my subjectivity, but for a good stretch in the second half, it seemed like if a Bruin looked at Maynor, he was going to the line. He only made five of fifteen shots, and that tenth miss was the difference in the game.
UCLA has to get ready for Villanova, who will basically have the home court advantage that the Bruins have enjoyed for the last few years. They struggled mightily against the Eagles from American University until simply dominating the end of the game. It's not an insurmountable task for a team with as much talent as UCLA. They'll play the first game of the day, tipping it off at 10:05 Pacific time. As much as the late start may have benefitted the Bruins tonight, they'll need to be ready for the early tip on Saturday.