It was a night Bruin fans and coach Steve Alford watched their young talented roster play possibly its strongest second half of the season, and then it wasn’t in a matter of minutes. UCLA was flustered late in the game with a 24-point lead, still doing just enough to squeeze out an 85-82 victory over South Dakota Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion.
After dropping two-games against tough opponents in Michigan and Cincinnati, coach Alford preached after their win that the hardest thing to do after losing one or two games, is simply winning again.
Sarcastically, he used his first thirty-seconds at the podium to ask reporters “how many of you want to go into coaching?”, waiting for responses as everyone jokingly laughed.
However, nearly losing a 78-54 lead, with just under five minutes to play at the end of the game is not a joking matter, as he fully understood that and let his team know about it.
“The first 36 minutes was beautiful basketball and unselfish, but the last four minutes was selfish,” Alford said. “The hardest thing to do is to get up when you’ve been knocked down. It’s a teaching moment for me, not the way I want to do it, but they learned a valuable lesson tonight.”
Thomas Welsh scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, had four assists and three blocks in his impressive performance.
Welsh was very efficient, making 7 of 14 shots on a night where he earned his seventh double-double of the season.
“When I get opportunities I’m just looking to take them and just try to do my best to knock them down,” added Welsh. “I got a lot of good looks tonight and I took them.”
UCLA’s leading scorer on the year, Aaron Holiday was all over the floor as well, adding 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, while coming away with two steals as well.
The Bruins lead was down to 84-82 after South Dakota’s Brandon Armstrong made a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left. The Coyotes fouled Jaylen Hands, where he converted one of two free throws, giving him 12 points on the night, increasing the lead to three points with 1.5 seconds left.
The following play left everyone inside Pauley Pavilion puzzled after South Dakota’s Logan Power launched the ball over to Brandon Armstrong, Holiday knocked the ball away as the buzzer sounded.
Controversy then took place as the clock had started a second before it should have, as referees we’re forced to look at the monitor. The lengthy review left coaches and players utterly confused.
“They were just checking the monitor,” Holiday said. “I don’t know what they were looking for. They saw what happened.”
After waiting almost ten minutes, the officials concluded that UCLA’s center Thomas Welsh tipped Power’s inbound pass before the Coyotes could get off a shot, ending the bizarre finish of a game. This could have potentially gotten crazier if South Dakota would have made a last-second three-point basket if awarded the ball a second time.
“That’s a weird situation,” said Welsh, as he ultimately ended the game tipping the ball with 1.5 seconds to play.
“I felt it right away though,” he added. “I got a piece of it.”
The Coyotes found themselves leading 36-33 at the end of the first half, as they were led by junior guard Matt Mooney, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first 20 minutes.
The Bruins came out in the second half looking like a new team, moving and sharing the ball resulting in a 13-3 run, followed by South Dakota responding with a 7-0 run of their own, tying the game up at 46-46.
UCLA stayed resilient with another 17-3 run, as Welsh and Holiday combined for 12 of the 17 points during their run, ultimately grabbing their largest lead just minutes later, 78-54 with 5:01 to play.
The Coyotes would go away responding with a 20-2 run late in the half, which caused coach Alford to question his team, as he believed his players became relaxed with their lead and only thought of themselves.
“What I was more upset about was when we broke the press, we didn’t eat clock,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “That’s what our guys gotta learn, it’s time and score. Why are we trying to score 10 seconds into the shot clock? We’re up 20.”
The Bruins finished with five players in double-digits, as they used a balanced attack, to defeat South Dakota, the reigning Summit League champions on 45.5 percent shooting from the field.