LOS ANGELES -- It's well past 11 p.m. and UCLA guard Darren Collison is still in his uniform walking around the upper corridor of Pauley Pavilion, signing autographs for fans and posing for pictures. In no rush to take off his jersey or go home, he glances up at the scoreboard one last time before he heads back to the locker room.
It's one of those wins Collison wishes he could savor longer than this brief after-hours evening that awaits him in Westwood. As he strolls down the court one more time, the final moments of UCLA's 77-67 overtime defeat of Stanford are still fresh in his mind.
"I don't know how it happened," Collison said of tipping in his own miss for the go-ahead basket in overtime. "When you want something so bad, everything works in your favor because you're trying so hard. ... It was miraculous."
There is a sense of relief in Collison's voice as he talks about the win --almost disbelief in how it all played out. Not so much in the final outcome but in the fight it took to finally come away with the win he had expected. The Bruins have had to come back before, but no one at Pauley Pavilion, not even the rowdy Stanford fans tucked away in the corner of the arena, expected UCLA to be down by as many as 14 points in the second half.
"I was surprised, but they're the best team we've played so far, hands down," Collison said, after posting a game-high 24 points. "It was an unbelievable game wasn't it? Stanford is going to be a Sweet 16 or an Elite 8 team. They know how to score and they play as a team. They're a hard team to stop. They have all the makings of a great team."
While the euphoria of UCLA's third-consecutive Pac-10 Championship was masked in relief, there was no hiding the disappointment in Stanford's locker room. The Cardinal had just watched their first conference title in four years slip through their hands despite controlling the game from the opening tip.
Stanford big man Brook Lopez, who went 8-for-22 from the field and finished with a team-high 18 points and 13 rebounds, slammed his gym bag against the wall and crossed his arms before reeling off brief and often one-word answers to reporters' questions, ranging from "Yeah" to "I guess" to "We're playing well."
Cardinal coach Trent Johnson had an equally glazed look on his face as he stared at the wall in front of him and tersely answered questions, often pausing and shaking his head before responding with all the pain of a patient sitting in a dentist's chair during a root canal.
"It's difficult because they played well for 42 minutes and they came up short," he said. "I feel for them. They were in a position were they could have won the game and they didn't; plain and simple."
One of the reasons Stanford had difficulty swallowing the loss was the controversial call that sent the game into overtime. With Stanford leading 63-61 and less than three seconds remaining in regulation, Collison went up for a shot against Lawrence Hill, which appeared to be blocked cleanly. Hill, however, was called for the foul and Collison hit both free throws with 2.5 seconds left to send the game into overtime (see below for video clip).
"I'm not going to comment on the officiating," Johnson said when asked about the call.
A grinning Collison, looking as giddy as a child that had just gotten away with something, was more than happy to comment on the play.
"That was block," said Collison. "That was a complete block. We were fortunate to get a foul called. I heard it was a make-up [call]."
Kevin Love, who had an equally large grin on his face, said, "We'll take it," before he shushed Collison.
UCLA may have been given a gift with the call that sent the game into overtime but Stanford did little to fight for the win they felt they deserved in the extra period, almost lying down in the final moments as the Bruins ran away with a 10-point win. It was as if Stanford players were still coming to grips with the fact that they had squandered a five-point lead with less than a minute left and had somehow let UCLA back in this game after taking a 32-18 lead in the second half.
"You could see this look on their faces when we came back," said Collison. "They wanted it so bad. I give Stanford credit, they played hard, but when we started cutting into their lead you could feel the momentum switch hands. The overtime was the turning point. Once we got there, we had worked so hard to get there we weren't going to give it back and they knew it."
As Collison changes into a black warm-up suit and meets up with several of his teammates outside of Pauley Pavilion, he's reminded that even if he didn't get the call to send the game into overtime that UCLA would probably still have won a share of the conference title. Once again a look of a child comes over his face, this time, however, he looks as stubborn as kid being asked to share his new toy with a classmate he doesn't like.
"We were not going to share this title at all," said Collison. "We can't share this. We worked way too hard to share it. We had to win this outright. We wanted to make a statement that this is the best conference and we are the best team."