Onward and upward.
A steady late-season climb through the Pac-12 Conference standings continued for UCLA on Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t easy.
Once ahead by 14 points early in the second half, the Bruins fell behind California before rallying for a 61-60 victory at Haas Pavilion.
It was UCLA’s fifth consecutive victory and seventh in its last eight games.
With the Bruins stuck in an epic offensive funk in which they had made one of 10 shots during a late stretch, center Adem Bona made a jump hook and drew a foul with 50 seconds left. He made the free throw to give UCLA a 56-55 lead.
Cal’s Fardaws Aimaq briefly gave the Golden Bears the lead again with a putback before UCLA’s Dylan Andrews made a midrange jumper with 25 seconds left to put the Bruins ahead 58-57.
Cal’s Jaylon Tyson missed a layup and UCLA’s Lazar Stefanovic grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 16.4 seconds to go.
Stefanovic made both free throws, Cal missed a three-pointer and UCLA’s Sebastian Mack grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made one of two free throws, rendering Cal’s three-pointer with one-tenth of a second meaningless.
Bona finished with 13 points and Stefanovic had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Bruins (13-11 overall, 8-5 Pac-12).
Cal broke out a 2-3 zone defense in the second half to get UCLA out of rhythm. Once trailing by as many as 14 points, the Golden Bears took a 51-50 lead on Tyson’s step-back jumper with 3:05 left.
Stefanovic countered with a corner three-pointer and the teams kept trading the lead. Bona blocked a shot but Aimaq grabbed the ball and went in for a putback that gave the Golden Bears a 55-53 advantage with 1:01 to go.
UCLA’s 35-24 halftime lead came courtesy of stifling defense that forced eight Cal turnovers and often gave the Golden Bears trouble just getting the ball into the frontcourt.
Full-court pressure in the game’s early going led to an Andrews steal and layup followed by a backcourt violation on Cal that had Mack flexing in celebration. The pestering sparked the Bruins’ 11-0 run that Cal broke thanks to some luck. After getting flustered for 25 seconds on one possession, Golden Bears forward Gus Larson picked up a loose ball and fired a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock. It went in.
The Bruins enjoyed several developments beyond the early lead. Andrews continued to have success with his midrange jumpers and Aday Mara solidified his role as Bona’s primary backup with a putback dunk, a few nifty passes and some agile defense. Stefanovic remained a monster on the boards with eight rebounds in the first half.