The Colorado Buffaloes (16-4, 5-3) hoped to sweep the Los Angeles road trip, but instead of making statement wins, they were disjointed and sloppy in a 72-68 loss to the UCLA Bruins (11-10, 4-4).
UCLA took early control of this game with their inspired defense. The Bruins ambushed the perimeter to blow up any dribble hand-off or pick-and-roll chances, which immediately threw off the Buffs. Colorado didn’t move the ball, had very little player movement, and whenever they did get the ball inside, UCLA crashed hard with aggressive help defense.
On the other side of the ball, UCLA simply got hot. They usually struggle with shot-making, but they were hitting all kinds of contested shots in the first half. Part of that was CU playing lazy defense, another was guys like Prince Ali shooting 3-3 from three, and Chris Smith hitting contested shots and drawing fouls.
It didn’t help that CU was getting outworked in every way. The Bruins were hustling everywhere and working hard defensively. That’s how they out-rebounded CU 20-10 in the half. CU being sloppy/lazy also made it very difficult to get into any offensive flow, especially with UCLA playing with that much energy. That’s how CU didn’t score a field goal for the final 5:47 of the half, and why they trailed 39-27 at half.
UCLA was not going to play that well all game; that was arguably their best half of the season overall. There was time for CU to make a run to get back into this game, they just settle in and take control of the game flow. Powered by defense and attacking the basket, the Buffs went on a 12-0 run to get the score to 42-39. Evan Battey was superb during this stretch, although his missed free throws later on did hurt.
Colorado never actually led in the second half, even though they were always down 3 or so points. This was not at all CU’s night shooting the ball, particularly Lucas Siewert and the role players. Whatever points they got were on fouls drawn. UCLA’s offense was an uninspired collection of Chris Smith isolations and offensive rebounds, but it worked well enough to hang onto their lead.
Down the stretch, it felt like everything went wrong for the Buffs. In one sequence, the Buffs turned it over, Smith hit a ridiculous jumper at the shot clock buzzer, Wright missed a hero-ball three, then Smith got fouled on a three to extend the lead to 11. CU still fought back and made it a 4-point game, but every bounce went UCLA’s way, Wright made a couple mistakes and the Bruins iced the game at the line.
This is a rough loss, but it’s not the end of the world. Every team loses tough games on the road and you could argue this was UCLA’s best overall game this season. It just wasn’t CU’s night, but they could make up for that with a win over USC. The Trojans are much better than their city rivals and match up with CU, so we will see if the Buffs wake up on Saturday.