Bruins drop OT thriller to Cal, 76-72

BERKELEY, Calif.--In one of UCLA's most exciting games of the season, the Bruins staged a furious second-half rally and got to overtime against California, but ended up losing, 76-72, in a Pac-10 game Sunday night at Haas Pavilion.

UCLA (19-8, 10-4) appeared sluggish and unprepared for Cal, who started off with a high level of intensity and never let up. The Golden Bears (14-13, 7-8) took an early 15-4 lead and extended it to 29-18 by halftime before UCLA found its three-point range and staged a comeback.

UCLA led, 57-56, with 1:13 to play, then fell behind, 60-57, before a Malcom Lee three-pointer at the buzzer bounced high off the rim and into the basket to send the game to overtime.

But it wasn't enough as Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez scored nine of his game-high 34 points in the extra period ending UCLA's six-game win streak. It was Cal's first home victory over UCLA since 2006 and ended the Golden Bears' four-game losing streak.

"Obviously it’s a disappointing loss," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I thought that the first half we really came out flat and that’s totally on me. There’s no way that should be."

Five observations from the game:

1The Bruins had no answer for Jorge Gutierrez

Gutierrez made a mockery of UCLA's defense by exposing the Bruins' weakness in guarding against ball screens.

He continually took the ball up top, waited for a screen and simply drove to the basket for easy baskets. He had 23 of his career-high 34 points in the second half and overtime. His 34 points were the most any player has scored against UCLA this season.

"Gutierrez absolutely killed us down the stretch," Howland said. "He just kept attacking our bigs, attacking our hedges, our plugs. He was driving, driving."

Howland eventually switched defensive stopped Malcolm Lee on to Gutierrez, but even Lee could do little against the screens.

"It didn’t matter who was guarding him," Howland said. "What they were doing was screening for him and he was coming up to our fours and fives and he was driving them. Just turning the corner and driving them every time. Driving right around us."

2The first half was a major disappointment

A team that fancies itself a Pac-10 title contender should not play like the Bruins did in the first half.

UCLA made only seven of 24 shots in the first half, including one of 12 on three-point attempts. They trailed, 29-18, marking the fewest points they have had at halftime this season.

California simply took it to UCLA from the opening tip, displaying a much higher energy level and seemed to take UCLA by surprise. The Golden Bears were on a four-game losing streak and are still below .500 in conference, so it could be the Bruins resorted to their old habit of taking a team too lightly.

"There’s no excuse for coming out flat with where we’re at right now," forward Reeves Nelson said. "We just need to learn from it and not let it happen again."

California out-hustled UCLA, getting to loose balls and out-rebounding the Bruins, 22-15, in the first half and 36-32 for the game. California had 16 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points. UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt, the Bruins' second-leading rebounder, had zero rebounds for the first time in his career.

"We didn’t have good mental focus before the game," center Joshua Smith said. "They came out fired up and it showed. We didn’t have any kind of mindset like we were going to beat them by 30. We were just trying to get a win. We knew it would be tough and you saw what happened."

3UCLA's most effective defense was a zone

UCLA had not played a single second of zone defense so far this season, but switched to a 2-3 zone about five minutes into the second half and it helped fuel UCLA's comeback. The Bruins trailed, 37-31 at the time of the switch and tied the game at 46-46 within seven minutes.

"The zone stopped the bleeding a lot," UCLA guard Malcolm Lee said. "Although they were scoring in the zone, it was more like one out of three times, as opposed to scoring every time against the man. Zone is the reason we got back in the game."

Howland said the switch was in an effort to keep Smith and Nelson out of foul trouble. Both had three fouls at the time, but Howland took off the zone in overtime and said it's it's not something he'd consider adding to the Bruins' defense in the future.

"It caught me by surprise, to tell you the truth," Smith said. "I remember going in the huddle and he said we were going to run zone and I was kind of like 'Oh, OK.'"

Tyler Honeycutt said he was surprised the Bruins haven't played more zone this season.

"I felt like we should've played zone against a couple teams," Honeycutt said. "We’re long enough and athletic enough to do that. Showing teams different looks is going to confuse them."

4Just getting to overtime wasn't enough

When Lee's three-pointer at the end of regulation went in, the Bruins celebrated as if the game had ended, but seemingly had a letdown in overtime: UCLA did not get a single defensive stop in the extra period.

"We all knew in our mind that we were going to win, but that’s why you play the game," Smith said.

California was six of eight from the field in overtime and got offensive rebounds on both misses. UCLA failed to box out on a missed free throw, giving Cal the ball back with a minute to play and the Golden Bears took a 71-68 lead.

Then, with 15 seconds to play, UCLA left Golden Bears guard Brandon Smith wide open in the corner for a three-point basket that gave Cal a 74-70 lead.

After fighting so hard to climb back, the Bruins were unable to seal the deal.

"After Malcolm got that roll on the three-pointer, it was kind of like it was our game kind of, so that makes it a little more disappointing," Nelson said.

5The Bruins may be back on the NCAA tournament bubble

UCLA had won 10 of 11 games coming into Sunday's game and had gotten into position to gain at least an at-large berth for the NCAA tournament, but this will be a bad loss on the Bruins' resume come selection Sunday.

"Basically this slaps us back to reality," Lee said. "'Yo, we’re still trying to fight to get into the tournament.' When we were on the streak, everything was all good, we were feeling all gravy, 'Yeah, we’re getting into the tournament.' This kind of levels us. It gets us back down, and we have to start from square one again."

The loss also puts the Bruins' hopes of a Pac-10 title in jeopardy. They now trail first-place Arizona by two games with four to go. UCLA will face Arizona Saturday at Pauley Pavilion and also has a difficult road trip to Washington and Washington State coming up.

Smith called the loss a "small road bump in trying to win the Pac-10" but it certainly seems like a pretty big one. UCLA will have to win out and get help in the form of an Arizona loss somewhere else along the line.

"We’re just going to play out our season and let other teams play out theirs and see what happens," Smith said.