It was over. The game was over.
After a pair of Shabazz Muhammad free throws with just over 12 minutes remaining UCLA held a 51-33 lead on Cal Poly. And given the deliberate style of play that the Mustangs prefer, there surely was no way that the Bruins could lose.
But they did.
Joe Callero’s team got hot offensively, and when combined with the Bruins’ indifference on the defensive end of the floor the end result was the perfect storm that is Cal Poly’s 70-68 win at Pauley Pavilion.
The Mustangs made seven of nine three-pointers during their comeback with a Dylan Royer three tying the game at 63 with 3:23 remaining. But while many viewers may have held the belief that UCLA would find a way to salvage the win Cal Poly did not, and their composure proved to be the difference.
Following a Jordan Adams layup to tie the game at 68 UCLA guard Norman Powell made a mistake he won’t soon forget, losing track of time and score and fouling Kyle Odister. Yes, shades of what happened in this game back in 2009. Odister made both free throws and when Adams’ three-point attempt bounced off the rim as time expired the Mustangs had themselves a historic victory.
“It feels great,” Royer said to the Associated Press. “We have so much respect for this school, this program and this team. To be down [18 points] is a little discouraging, but we kept our heads up and we kept fighting. As we battled out the points and start to come back we got more confident and said, `Hey, we can do this.”‘
The majority of the stories written won’t focus on Cal Poly, however. They’ll be about a UCLA team that many thought would be OK once Shabazz Muhammad was cleared by the NCAA. Muhammad finished with 15 points and ten rebounds and Travis Wear added 14, but the same defensive issues that were apparent in their 78-70 loss to Georgetown last week were on display against the Mustangs.
Cal Poly shot 57.7% from the field and outscored UCLA in the paint 18-8 in the second half. In regards to that points in the paint discrepancy, who in the front court can Ben Howland trust right now? Josh Smith and Tony Parker combined to play just 12 minutes on Sunday night, with Travis Wear playing 34 minutes and Howland going with him at the five for long stretches (David Wear played 18 minutes).
Then there are the questions in regards to leadership and players understanding (and just as importantly accepting) their roles. The good news for UCLA is that it’s still November; they have time to figure out solutions to these issues before getting into Pac-12 play.
But do they have the “right” answers? Besides knowing that Tyler Lamb won’t be one of those solutions, it’s difficult to answer that question in the affirmative after Sunday’s result.