PALO ALTO, Calif -- Opportunity kept on knocking at UCLA's door, but the Bruins never answered as they fell to Stanford, 60-59, Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference opener at Maples Pavilion.
Lazeric Jones had a shot to win the game as time wound down, but Stanford's Josh Huestis blocked his eight-footer from just inside the free-throw line to preserve the victory for the Cardinal.
UCLA fell behind early, 18-7, but rallied several times though the Bruins couldn't take the lead and leave Palo Alto shaking their heads about missing out on a golden opportunity to get off to a good start in conference play.
"I’m happy the way we competed and found a way to give ourselves a chance to win," coach Ben Howland said. "But we’re never happy or pleased when we end up on the wrong side."
Five observations from the game:
1The Bruins simply couldn't get over the hump
The Bruins fell behind early, trailing 18-7 with 9:48 left in the first half, but rallied back to tie the score seven times. They never regained the lead, however, after jumping out to a quick 5-0 edge.
The Bruins had possession 10 times with a chance to re-take the lead, eight in the second half, but never got over the hump. Twice in the final 11 seconds, the Bruins had shots to go ahead, but Jerime Anderson missed an open 3-pointer and then Jones couldn't get off his shot.
"I give our team credit for battling and hanging in there on the road against a good team on their floor," Howland said. "We just missed a shot. We make that shot we have a good chance.
2The Bruins gave it away at the free-throw line
UCLA made 15 of 24 free throws (62.5 percent), which amount to nine misses in a one-point loss. Joshua Smith was 2-for-5, and Jones and Tyler Lamb missed two each.
"We’re just rushing," Smith said. "When you lose a game by one and you look at nine missed free throws, if we made just three of those it's a different game at the end."
Lamb and Smith each missed free throws that would have given UCLA the lead in the second half. Jones missed one that would have tied the score with 2:12 to play.
"Lack of focus," Lamb said. "I practice my free throws every day. I just have to walk to the line and knock those down."
3Lazeric Jones nearly carried the team to victory
Jones spurred a sputtering offense by taking control and scoring a career-high 26 points, but it's the two he didn't score at the end that will haunt him.
Jones made 8 of 13 shots and the rest of the team made just 12 of 38. Jones made 4 of 6 3-point shots and the rest of the team was 0-for-9 from long range. UCLA missed 10 of its first 12 shots, then Jones took over, scoring nine points during an 11-6 run to end the second half and get UCLA back in the game.
He made a 3-pointer to tie the score at 40-40 midway through the second half and another to get the Bruins to within a point at 47-46 with 7:33 to play. But it was the last shot that Jones couldn't wipe from his mind.
"I knew as soon as I did it I should have passed it," Jones said. "I knew there were two people on me. Just rushing for no reason."
4The zone defense looked good again
UCLA began the game in a man-to-man defense, but Stanford made five of its first nine shots and Howland switched to a zone. The Bruins held Stanford to four of its next 26 from the floor. UCLA trailed, 13-6, at the time of the switch.
Late in the second half, Stanford began finding holes in the zone and made four consecutive 3-point shots and Howland then switch back to man with 4:36 to play.
"The zone really helped us get back into the game," Howland said.
5UCLA's post players struggled around the basket
Smith and David Wear often looked as if they had butter fingers when they got the ball down low. Wear finished the game 1-for-8 from the field and Smith was 2-for-6 before hitting two late buckets -- both of which looked like prayers he tossed up and got lucky on.
It continued a season-long trend for the Bruins' post players, who can't seem to make aggressive moves to the basket, instead more often going for soft layups. David Wear did not attempt a free throw. Travis Wear, the other post player, only got off one shot Thursday.
The Wear twins combined for seven points.
"We’ve got to get more offensive production out of those two," Howland said. "David he thinks too much at times where he gets wound up to where he’s maybe going too fast. He needs to slow down on offense."
David Wear acknowledged that he was a little jittery playing in his first conference game and first true road game in a year and a half.
"I just played a little tight," he said. "Conference is starting, the gyms are crowded, it’s like a whole new season. The level of competition picks up, the teams are much more prepared. It’s definitely a step up."