His teammates and coaches said his leadership was crucial. Jerome Randle, recounting a moment in the second half when the Bruins were on the verge of pulling away from the Bears, said, "He was telling people to keep their heads up and kept preaching to us that the game is not over. There was a lot of time on the clock, and we just had to keep on playing."
Coach Braun added, "Ayinde is a winner. In every game this year that has gone to overtime or has been decided down the stretch, he has put his fingerprints on it. He is willing to take charge, and he is willing to take big shots. You need to have a player like that, Ryan [Anderson] and the other guys around him respond to that type of leadership, guts and courage."
And this against Pac-10 player of the year Aaron Afflalo who had severely limited Ubaka's performance in the two regular season contests between these teams.
Ubaka was rather more understated. "This is great, but we have another game tomorrow," he said. "Oregon doesn't care that we won this game."
In his 40 minutes on the floor (in a 45 minute game), Ubaka hit 9 of 12 shots, 6 of 8 from the line, and grabbed three rebounds, but that still does not tell the whole story. Time after time when crucial baskets were needed, Ubaka took the ball and found a way to score - whether by a sweeping semi-hook shot from mid-range, a finger-roll on a slashing drive, or a three from six feet beyond the arc.
The clincher came when Ubaka was closely guarded on the perimeter with just under a minute left in overtime - and Cal with a 5-point lead - at a time when the game was still within reach for UCLA.
|AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Ubaka, slightly off balance, and with the shot clock counting off its last seconds, took a quick step right, got a look, and iced the game with a high-arcing three to put Cal ahead 72-64. As the ball cleared the net, the shot clock said zero, and Cal fans - and the Cal bench - went nuts.
"We know he goes right, the scouting report says he goes right, and he did exactly that and made a great shot," Howland said.
This game was sudden death for the Bears. Lose, and go home, with Ubaka's Cal career over and done. Not so for the Bruins - their season record had already assured them of a top seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Every team plays to win every game, and the Bruins certainly battled Thursday, but in this one Cal had the adrenaline of desperation flowing in their veins - the Bruins did not.
Ryan Anderson put in 42 minutes on the floor to lead his teammates - Theo Robertson, 35, Omar Wilkes 36. These indispensable players and the long minutes they put in certainly rewarded Braun's efforts to get them some bench time in Wednesday's game against Oregon State.
Ryan Anderson scored 8 points on 6 of 11 shooting, but took only 4 shots from beyond the arc, making 2. Recognizing Anderson's scoring potential, the Bruins often pushed the defensive perimeter well out beyond the arc. But that too may have helped the Bears because it unclogged the paint and opened driving and passing lanes. At the six minute mark in the first half, Cal had scored 16 points from the paint to UCLA's 2.
Cal shot 48% for the game, UCLA 42%. More importantly, Cal was 44% from beyond the arc on 18 attempts; UCLA was 32% on 25 tries. Though both teams made 8 threes, the lower percentage cost UCLA seven scoring opportunities.
Both teams surrendered 14 turnovers, most of them caused by tight defense rather than sloppy ball handling.
Some games have phases, certainly this one. Cal pushed out to a strong lead in the first half, reaching a 16-point advantage with six minutes left in the half, and taking a 37-25 lead to the shed.
Said Braun, "We got off to a good start today, and defensively we did a very good job on their guys. Keeping Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison to zero points at the half was a large reason why we were up. We have been preaching defense to our guys and that was the big difference for us today."
|AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Ayinde Ubaka after game-clinching three
In the second half, UCLA stormed back using high energy on offense and almost frantic defense to gain a 4-point lead at the 11-minute mark. In those nine minutes, UCLA had outscored Cal 20-4 and it seemed likely that one of UCLA's trademark second-half performances was happening again.
Then Ubaka told the Bears to keep their heads up, and the Bears stemmed the tide, staying within 4 points of the Bruins for the next 6 minutes. After Theo Robertson hit two free throws to tie the game at 53, Ubaka took charge. At 4:03 he hit a three, at 0:54 he hit another, to tie the game at 59. Then, after a UCLA score to take a 2-point lead, the last seconds of the game clock were dwindling away, but still Ubaka was not done. With 15 seconds left, Ubaka took the ball again, scored to tie the game, and sent it into overtime.
Cal shot 80% from the line, UCLA 52%. Cal's ability to consistently drop free throws at crunch time proved to be the deciding factor in this game as it did in Cal's three other overtime wins this year.
|AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Ubaka, Randle Celebrating Win
In the last three minutes of this overtime, 8 of Cal's 15 points came from the charity stripe. Those eight points (5 by Vierneisel, 3 by Ubaka) were sandwiched around Ubaka's game-clinching three - and built on two overtime-opening layups by Omar Wilkes and (who else) Ayinde Ubaka - to provide the winning points.
Rebounds were almost even: Cal 32, UCLA 33, even if the Bruins length helped them do better on the offensive glass where they grabbed 16 to Cal's 11. On numerous occasions, Bear players charged the basket as shots were released to position themselves for rebounds, hoping to achieve by numbers what they lacked in height. The strategy worked.
"This (game) is what I'm going to remember (from) my freshman year," said Anderson.
The Oregon State game report published yesterday by The Bear Insider noted that Ayinde Ubaka has consistently adopted a positive attitude toward each game - and to the whole season - never admitting that the loss of Jordan Wilkes and DeVon Hardin had hurt the team's prospects. Instead he has insisted on maintaining his (and his team's) pride and his fierce determination to win.
Cal fans saw that on full display yesterday.
In the Bear Insider report on Cal's 85-75 loss to UCLA on February 22nd, author Dan Lachman wrote: "The other good news is that barring a third encounter in the Pac-10 Tournament, Ubaka won't have to face Afflalo again. Although Ubaka finished with 10 points, seven of them came after the game had been decided. As he had in Berkeley, Afflalo effectively shut down Cal's senior leader." (Ubaka was scoreless against UCLA in their January loss at Haas.)
How times can change.
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