BERKELEY, Calif. — Not long after punctuating his 21st birthday with a clutch 3-pointer for UCLA, Jules Bernard had to think quickly when teammate Russell Stong tried to douse him with a celebratory bottle of water.
“I saw him. He was coming with the cap off,” Bernard said. “I saw him lurking.”
Bernard persuaded Stong to hold off on the water, but the Bruins still had fun celebrating with the birthday boy.
Cody Riley scored 13 points, Bernard made the crucial 3-pointer with 2:08 remaining and the 24th-ranked Bruins shook off a mistake-filled night to beat California 61-57 on Thursday.
The Bruins (12-2, 8-0 Pac-12) committed 14 turnovers and were sloppy offensively but ended the game on a 7-2 run.
“It’s a sign of a team that knows how to win,” Bernard said. “We have ugly games like this and our defense helps us come out on top. We still have work to do on both sides, offensively and defensively. All in all, we’re just trying to work to be that great team.”
UCLA was anything but that for most of the game, and the Bruins heard plenty about it from coach Mick Cronin.
Still, Cronin found it hard to complain with the Bruins off to their best start in conference play since 1982-83, when they opened 9-0 in what was then the Pac-10.
“Our defense won the game for us,” Cronin said. “My dad in Cincinnati … I just hope he’s not being rushed to the hospital with all the turnovers we had. But we hung in there and kept defending. That’s the character I want to see from our team.”
Riley converted a spinning layup that put UCLA ahead 54-52. After Grant Anticevich’s fifth 3-pointer gave Cal the lead, Riley made a 17-foot jumper and Bernard followed with his pivotal shot that gave UCLA a four-point advantage.
Bernard finished with 11 points to help the Bruins to their eighth consecutive win over the Golden Bears.
UCLA improved to 14-3 in two seasons Cronin in games decided by five points or less.
Anticevich scored 21 points and made five 3s for California (7-9, 2-7). The Bears played without leading scorer Matt Bradley.
“I was proud of the competitive effort we made, but against a great team we just made too many mistakes,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “We didn’t make a lot but in a high-level game, to beat a high-level opponent, you have to play a little more mistake-free than we did today.”
MORE TOUCHES, PLEASE
Riley had eight of UCLA’s final 20 points and Cronin blamed himself for the redshirt junior not scoring more.
“They were giving him one-on-one coverage. To be honest, he should have had the ball a lot more than he did throughout the game,” Cronin said. “When you get in those grinders, 3s aren’t falling, you have to get layups and you have to have a guy who can get those tough buckets at the rim.”
UCLA: It wasn’t pretty and Cronin angrily stomped his feet on more than a few occasions. The Bruins defense played better down the stretch, however, and that was the difference. UCLA held Cal scoreless for more than 3 1/2 minutes after the Bears took their final lead.
California: Bradley is nursing a right ankle injury that has kept him out of seven of the last nine games. Anticevich was the only Bears player in double figures.
UCLA: Plays Stanford in Santa Cruz on Saturday.
California: Hosts USC on Saturday, although the status of the game is uncertain after USC’s scheduled game against Stanford was postponed due to a suspected COVID-19 case within the Trojans program.