FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford wants the ball in his hands during critical moments at the end of games. He had it, and he delivered, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half to pace the No. 14 Bruins to a 82-71 victory over Nebraska in the Wooden Legacy semifinals Friday at Cal State Fullerton.
The Bruins (6-0) will play Texas A&M in Sunday’s championship game at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Alford made a 3-pointer with 1:02 left to give UCLA a 77-66 lead. He made all four of his free throws after that. Isaac Hamilton scored 15 points and Lonzo Ball added 13 for UCLA. Center Thomas Welsh had his fourth double double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“As a basketball player, those are the kind of moments you live for,” Bryce Alford said. “That’s something I’ve always prided myself on, being a closer … It’s about making smart plays down the stretch to help our team win games. I put (us) in a position to do that tonight.”
Nebraska (4-1) was led by Glynn Watson Jr., who scored a game-high 27 points.
The Bruins led 38-25 at halftime and on the first play of the second half, star freshman guard Ball wowed as he converted an alleyoop dunk with a pass from T.J. Leaf. He had many more highlight-reel plays after that. Midway through the second half, he tried to convert an alleyoop pass that was just off the mark into a basket. It didn’t fall, but he tipped in his own miss for the score.
Nebraska made just 10 of 35 shots in the first half for a dismal 28.6 field-goal percentage. The Cornhuskers made just one 3-pointer and shot 12.5 percent from long range. Nebraska cut the lead to two points at 58-56 on a 3-pointer from Watson Jr., but it would never get closer.
“I felt like we were very tentative in the first half,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “That’s not like us. I thought the second half was more of a snapshot of what we’re like. But every time got the game down to 2 or 3, they answered. Alford made some tough shots. (Aaron) Holiday made some tough shots. They hurt us. We didn’t get enough outside shooting.”
Ball left the game with four fouls for a 3:03-span but came back with 4:58 left in the game and then fouled out.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost for just the first time this season in playing one of the country’s top teams. The third-place game won’t be easy, but Nebraska has an extra day to prepare for Virginia Tech.
UCLA: The Bruins played on national television but perhaps didn’t make many inroads with the East Coast audience as the game started at 12 a.m., EST. The Wooden Legacy championship game is at a much more viewer-friendly hour at 8:30 p.m. EST on Sunday.
Nebraska plays Virginia Tech in the third-place game on Sunday. They’ll have work to do in preparing for a physical team that just suffered its first loss of the season as well.
UCLA gets one day off before playing in the championship game against Texas A&M on Sunday. The Bruins are playing in the final of the tournament named after Wooden, who won 10 national championships in Westwood. No pressure.
UCLA cemented its status as a top-15 team by surviving its first real test of the season against a Big Ten Conference team.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
UCLA is 4-0 in the all-time series against Texas A&M. The teams last played in the Wooden Classic in 2006 and 2008. Both of those games were decided by three points or less.
Nebraska lost its first game of the season but is scheduled to be at the happiest place on earth on Saturday – Disneyland – before playing Virginia Tech for third place on Sunday.
“… We have to bounce back. We can’t hang our heads. (Saturday), we can mope around and hang out with Goofy and Minney and Mickey, that’s fine, but on Sunday we need to be ready to go in and go to battle.”
— Nebraska coach Tim Miles
HE SAID WHAT?
On Thursday night, Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, guaranteed in a nationally-televised interview that UCLA would win the national championship. Asked how he felt about that, the freshman said: “I’m thankful for him. That’s how he is. Loud and to the point. I’m his son, so why wouldn’t he want the best for me?”