LOS ANGELES – UCLA salvaged a rocky week for its men’s basketball program by knocking off the Pac-12’s top team, giving the Bruins some much-needed momentum going into next week’s league tournament.
Lazeric Jones scored 20 points, twice hitting go-ahead baskets in the final 8:39, in a 75-69 win over Washington on Saturday that prevented the Huskies from clinching the league regular-season title outright.
“Everyone was looking to be outright champs, but we have a lot of games left,” said Terrence Ross, who had 18 points. “We can’t focus on this loss.”
The Huskies could still win an outright title if Stanford defeats Cal today.
Travis Wear had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Tyler Lamb added 14 points for the Bruins (18-13, 11-7), who were picked to win the league title but have stumbled through a disappointing season that included three conference losses by three points or less. Unless they win next week’s Pac-12 tournament, they’re destined to miss the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
“We’re trying to roll on this win,” Jones said. “We’ve been kind of close, but hopefully this can be a turning point for us.
“This game was big for us. We want to be happy about it now but not satisfied. We have four big games ahead of us.”
The program got a jolt earlier in the week from a Sports Illustrated report, quoting more than a dozen former players and staff from the Bruins’ last four teams, that said there was fighting among the players, alcohol and drug use and a lack of discipline under coach Ben Howland.
“Kids are very resilient,” Howland said. “The adversity of this week probably brought us together.”
C.J. Wilcox scored 22 points, Tony Wroten added 14 and Abdul Gaddy had a career-high 12 assists for the Huskies (21-9, 14-4), who had won four straight against the Bruins.
If California wins today it would not only tie for the title but also earn the league tournament’s top seed by virtue of a tiebreak because the Golden Bears beat the Huskies in their only regular-season meeting.
“We are still co-champs, that’s a positive,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, a former UCLA assistant. “We could still be outright champs based on the game tomorrow. We just had a mindset that we were going to take care of this situation. We said five days ago we couldn’t have any slipups.”
After beating Southern California on Thursday, Washington was in position to win just its second league title outright in 58 years with a win over the Bruins. The Huskies led much of the game until the Bruins took over the final 10 1/2 minutes, outscoring Washington 17-7. The Huskies had just one basket in the final 1:19.
“We just didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the basketball,” Romar said. “The difference in the game was in the second half; they scored 11 points off our turnovers and the majority of those were unforced.”
Washington led by six points early in the second half. The Bruins started getting the ball down low to Joshua Smith while holding the Huskies to 32 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes.
“Our guys showed a lot of moxie and poise after falling down early,” Howland said. “They never got rattled.”