The Bruins, playing in a packed house for the first time in months, escaped another upset bid amid the chaos of the Buffaloes' hostile road crowd.
No. 9 UCLA men's basketball (13-2, 5-1 Pac-12) led by as many as 17 against Colorado (12-6, 4-4), then had things come down to the final seconds in an eventual 71-65 victory in Boulder on Saturday night. That result comes after a tight 63-58 win over Utah on Thursday, which similarly came down to the final few possessions, and the Bruins have now completed the Pac-12 mountain school road sweep for the second time in three seasons under coach Mick Cronin.
The Buffaloes had their shots to send it to overtime, but the Bruins got stops when it counted most. Guard Johnny Juzang, who led his team with 23 points after dropping 28 two nights earlier, was the man who had to put things away from the free throw line, and he powered through the noise of the raucous crowd to help secure the win.
The Colorado fans may have actually given UCLA a break moments earlier, when a foul by guard Tyger Campbell was called after a ref on the other side of the court had granted a timeout to coach Tad Boyle. In a more contained, quiet environment like the fan-less Pauley Pavilion, Campbell's foul may have been called and the Buffaloes wound have had a chance to tie things up at the free throw line, but the Bruins ultimately caught a break and sealed the deal on the opposite charity stripe.
After a few games with somewhat suppressed offensive numbers, UCLA came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. The Bruins started 7-of-12 from the field with three 3-pointers, and their disruption on the other end led directly to that success – Colorado had five turnovers that turned into 11 UCLA points in the first five minutes.
The Bruins held multiple double-digit leads in the opening six minutes Saturday night, but both were immediately trimmed back down by Buffalo 3-pointers. Colorado's home crowd really got into it around that same point, coinciding with a 7-0 run that made it a one-score game.
UCLA went four full minutes without a point until Juzang knocked down a midrange jumper, and he got another shot to go the next possession to give his team a little more of a cushion. Colorado wasn't going away, however, and a layup by forward Tristan da Silva and 3-pointer by guard Keeshawn Barthelemy made it a one-point game once more.
The next six points scored all came from the free throw line, and the foul-happy stretch ended with the Bruins going up 26-21.
The Buffaloes hit just one shot in the last eight minutes of the first half, letting the blue and gold vault ahead before the break. Colorado only managed to take five shots during that span, with UCLA forcing seven turnovers and turning that defense into offense.
Winning the points-off-turnovers battle 18-0 in the first half, the Bruins countered the Buffaloes' cold streak by hitting five shots in a row heading into the final minutes of the opening frame. That streak was snapped when guard Tyger Campbell missed a jumper in the final moments, but two offensive rebounds that possession still led to Juzang points at the buzzer.
UCLA went into halftime up 43-28, on pace for its best offensive and defensive game of conference play so far. The Bruins preserved that double-digit lead for the first half of the second half, but forward Evan Battey cut it to eight again with 11 minutes to go, ironically off a turnover from Campbell.
The Colorado crowd was once again getting riled up, only for Battey to pick up his fourth foul and leading scorer Jabari Walker to leave the game with a right leg injury. The crowd hardly quieted down, though, and the Buffaloes refused to go away, continuing to trade baskets with the Bruins until da Silva hit back-to-back layups and made it a six-point game with 8:15 left on the clock.
After going ahead by 17 early in the second half, UCLA hit just four of its next 18 shots and Colorado went 11-of-17 without ever notching back-to-back misses. Battey capped off that run with a straightaway 3-pointer that took the energy to another level, but guard/forward Jaime Jaquez answered with a 3 of his own to make it a two-possession game again.
Jaquez got caught backpedalling a minute later, though, and he allowed an and-1 on a fast break that helped the Buffaloes cut the Bruins' lead in half.
UCLA, up 58-55 inside the four-minute mark, then turned to Juzang to get them over the hump, and the team's leading scorer answered. Juzang got back-to-back midrange jumpers to go, keeping the Bruins up by five points with three minutes left.
Battey hit a jump hook to cut it to three, and then Walker came back in and slammed it home to make it a one-point game.
Campbell, who was 0-of-6 from the field and 0-of-2 from deep on the night, stepped back after getting a screen from forward Cody Riley and drilled a big 3-pointer. Guard Jaylen Clark fouled Battey the next time down the floor, and he hit both of his free throws.
That's when things locked down in the final minutes, and it came down to a bunch of free throws by Juzang and Bernard to close things out. That pair was a combined 8-of-8 from the line on the night, and Jaquez went 4-of-5. That trio combined for 46 points, while center Myles Johnson had eight points and two blocks on perfect shooting off the bench.
UCLA will return home to Pauley Pavilion in three days time, playing host to No. 3 Arizona in a long-delayed matchup between top-10 teams. The Bruins and Wildcats will tip off at 8 p.m. Tuesday night in the first home game with fans since Dec. 1, and the showdown will be broadcast on ESPN.