It all had a painfully familiar feel for UCLA.
A big lead. Some sloppy play and listless defense. A lead that was no more.
The ending? That was singularly excruciating.
Bruins guard Jules Bernard stood doubled over in anguish, hands on his legs, in the final seconds of a Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal that somehow devolved into more misery.
After giving up a 16-point cushion against Oregon State on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena, UCLA had a chance to purge the ghosts of collapses past and present in the last minute of overtime.
Instead, there was only more disappointment at the end of an 83-79 loss that left the Bruins’ once-secure NCAA hopes teetering. Players walked off the court in stunned silence, guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. placing his hands on his head in disbelief of a fourth consecutive crushing defeat.
“Things happen,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Lately, everything that can happen has happened to the Bruins.”
Something more upbeat had seemed possible only moments earlier.
With the Bruins trailing by a point in overtime, Bernard drove toward the basket and got raked across the head while also having his shot blocked with 41 seconds left. There was no foul called in what had otherwise been a whistle-happy game, leading to UCLA’s Cody Riley and Jaquez fouling out in the final minutes of regulation.
It was the fear of another foul that led to the Bruins’ undoing.
Given one more chance to put his team ahead, Bernard grabbed a rebound after an Oregon State miss and drove the length of the court, barreling into the lane. With Oregon State’s Zach Reichle materializing in front of him, Bernard feared getting called for a charge, flinging the ball toward the wing.
“I knew I had two teammates to my left,” Bernard said, “and I tried to get it back to them.”
The pass was off the mark, sailing into the hands of Oregon State’s Jarod Lucas, who was fouled with four seconds left. Lucas made both free throws, giving the Beavers a three-point advantage, before they fouled UCLA’s Johnny Juzang with three seconds remaining to prevent the Bruins from getting a possible tying three-pointer.
Juzang made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, attempting to give his team a chance at a tip-in. But Oregon State’s Rodrigue Andela grabbed the rebound and was fouled, making both free throws to send the Beavers (15-12) into a semifinal against top-seeded Oregon on Friday.
UCLA’s fate is far more uncertain. Assuming they’re selected Sunday, the Bruins (17-9) will head into the NCAA tournament having blown four consecutive leads in the second half. Bernard disputed the notion that UCLA played tight down the stretch after leading by 16 in the first half against Oregon State.
“We saw this tournament, this postseason, as basically a new season, a new start,” said Bernard, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “Everybody has a fresh slate.”
Cronin, whose team started 8-0 in Pac-12 play and had a chance to win the conference title on the final weekend of the regular season, pinned this defeat squarely on himself.
“I failed to get the job done, if you want to know the truth, defensively with this team,” Cronin told radio analyst Tracy Murray. “I really failed to get the job done on the defensive end.”
More failures at the free-throw line also contributed to the meltdown. With three seconds left in regulation and the Bruins down by a point, Bernard stepped to the line, a familiar spot for someone who had missed the front end of a one-and-one late in the loss to USC last weekend.
Bernard’s first free throw missed, bouncing off the back of the rim and then the front. His second rattled around the rim and into the air before falling through the net to tie the score at 70-70.
Nearly nothing went right for the Bruins the rest of the way. But Bernard said he felt like UCLA was an NCAA tournament-worthy team despite its stumbles over the last two weeks.
“All these past four losses,” Bernard said, “the games have been our game and it’s just little mistakes, little things that sort of cost us the games.”
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