In what must be an unsettling thought for UCLA basketball fans, the Bruins might go as far as Nikola Dragovic takes them.
Consider Saturday a significant uptick in a career of many ups and downs.
Dragovic scored 16 second-half points after making just one of his three first-half shots to pace UCLA to a 74-62 victory over Washington State at Pauley Pavilion.
The senior forward was 5-for-8 in the second half and nailed three crucial three-pointers that gave the Bruins some breathing room.
When asked what got into Dragovic in the second half, freshman Reeves Nelson said, “Nik just started making shots.” The joke induced a collective laugh from reporters before Dragovic started to explain himself.
“Coach (Ben Howland) told me the last couple of weeks that I need to be patient and wait for the ball,” Dragovic said. “It’s what I did in the second half.”
Having Nelson as a sidekick didn’t hurt, either.
Nelson scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the second half after UCLA started feeding the ball inside more. That freed of Dragovic, who hit a three-pointer to give UCLA a then game-high 14-point lead with under 12 minutes to play.
“They were helping off Reeves,” Dragovic said. “I was just patient.”
With his shots falling, Dragovic tried his luck at some flashy passing. Standing near the three-point line on the left wing, Dragovic attempted a no-look, over the shoulder hook pass. The ball sailed on him and luckily banked off the glass before Michael Roll picked it up for an uncontested layup.
Just how the Bruins drew it up, right?
“I saw Reeves under, but the ball slipped,” Dragovic said, again drawing a laugh from those in the press conference room. “It hit the glass and Mike got it, so I got an assist for it.”
A team spokesman later informed Dragovic that he had not received an assist on the play.
“Alright,” he said with a wide grin.
All joking aside, Nelson acknowledged that the Bruins are a completely different team when Dragovic gets the hot hand.
“He’s very important,” Nelson said. “When he doesn’t try to do too much, our team has a lot better success.”