The No. 20 University of Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team fell to the UCLA Bruins, 72-68, at Pauley Pavilion to open their Los Angeles road trip.
“Forget about goals right now, the goal is to try and win the next game,” said Colorado head coach Tad Boyle. “I’m done talking about championships and all that crap because we are not worthy of that talk right now.”
This loss to the Bruin’s will mark Colorado’s first loss in the last five matchups against UCLA, with the Bruins’ last win over CU coming back in January of 2017 in Boulder.
Rebounding numbers proved to be a difference-maker early on. UCLA grabbed ten boards compared to CU’s three in the first ten minutes of the game, helping the Bruins leap out to 20-10 lead just ten minutes into the contest.
“It was just toughness — our guys don’t have toughness on the road,” said Colorado sophomore forward Evan Battey. “We have toughness in front of our fans, in front of our (CU) Events Center, but on the road, we lose that toughness.”
UCLA began the game hot, with six different players scoring points in the first twelve minutes of play, as the Bruins took a 25-15 lead with 8:03 to go in the opening half. The Bruins were shooting 45% from the field on 9-of-20 shots and 50% from behind the arc on 3-of-6 attempts with just over five minutes remaining in the first half.
Junior guard Chris Smith of UCLA began to pull away from the pack in terms of scoring as the first half wound down. Smith owned 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting with a three-pointer and three rebounds, more than doubling the next highest scorer on either team.
He’d finish the game with an impressive 30 points and got to the free throw line 15 times, making 13 of those attempts.
Colorado just couldn’t seem to find an answer for the fast-paced play of the Bruins, who had four steals and ten points off turnovers in the first half.
“Our toughness wasn’t there,” Colorado junior guard McKinley Wright IV said. “It’s an area we have to improve in. We will get back to the drawing board and be better.”
On a few of the possessions in the first half, Colorado attempted to play zone defense to try and switch it up on UCLA. While CU’s zone seemed to jumble and confuse the UCLA offense, the Bruins still managed to find a way to put the ball through the net and UCLA went on to take a 39-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Battey and junior guard/forward Tyler Bey led the scoring effort for Colorado at halftime with eight points, two rebounds and one assist each.
UCLA picked up in the second right where they left off in the first, as Smith opened things up with a prime-time dunk over junior guard Maddox Daniels and got awarded the and-one to top off the three-point play, pushing his total to 17 points.
Colorado finally settled down five minutes into the second half, going on a 12-0 run in 3:54 to make it a five-point game, 42-37 Bruins. The Bruins at this point had missed their last five shots along with giving up four turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half, allowing the Buffaloes to creep right back into contention.
“I think our guys battled in the second half, we fought back,” Boyle said. “This team’s got heart but for some reason the last two games in a row, Arizona and now here, we have just gotten punked.”
With ten minutes remaining in the game, the Bruins hung on to a slim five-point lead thanks mostly to the continued effort of Smith, now with 21 points and eight rebounds. Senior guard Prince Ali also made a healthy contribution to the UCLA scoreline with eleven points of his own along with four rebounds.
“I kind of mentioned this before, when teams sense that we are not doing a good job on the board, that’s something they are going to emphasize to try to expose that,” said CU senior forward Lucas Siewert. “We just got to do a better job of getting our mentality right, for some reason we can do it at home but on the road, we just can’t get it together.”
As CU tried to get over the hump and pushed to take the lead late in the game, UCLA freshman guard Jamie Jaquez Jr. had other ideas. He hit a clean turn around, fade-away jumper to put the Bruins up six points late. UCLA’s energy had clearly wavered a bit since the first half, but not so much that the team had given up the lead. UCLA held a 61-53 lead with four minutes left in the game.
“They had 22 fast break points and 18 second-chance points,” Wright IV said. “That was our problem, it wasn’t the execution.”
Smith’s performance just added to the Bruin’s success as they dominated in offensive rebounds and second-chance points, leading CU 13-7 in offensive boards and 18-10 in second-chance points.
On the night, rebounds and second-chance points allowed to the Bruins were constant negatives that perpetually kept the Buffaloes underwater in terms of being able to come back from manageable deficits. UCLA held a 39-29 edge on the glass.
“We understood that UCLA is the number one offensive rebounding percentage team in the league right now,” Battey said. “We talked about it; we couldn’t emphasize it enough, obviously, because we gave up 18 second-chance points. We just have to get back to the drawing board.”
The Buffaloes wouldn’t leave without making a last-second effort. After a turnover caused by the Colorado press defense, the Buffs brought the score back to 66-61 with 1:48 left, but at the end of the day, it was too little too late.
At one point, midway through the second half, Colorado cut the Bruins’ lead to just three, but that’s as far as it would go as UCLA finished them off, 72-68. UCLA is now 11-0 this season when limiting the opposition to 73 points or fewer.
“Sometimes you have to look within, you can’t look for other people to motivate you, you have to motivate yourself,” Boyle said. “That is where we are at right now, it’s time to look inward and that includes the coach.”
The Buffaloes will continue their road trip in Los Angeles with a game against USC at the Galen Center on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 8:30 MST.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Max Troderman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @mtroderman.
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