In recent years, a California Golden Bears team down by nine points with five minutes to play would have folded. But this Bear team did not let up, against a program that has made three straight Final Four appearances, for good measure.
No, instead, these Bears fought back—enough to have a chance to tie the game with the luck of a steal or a missed free throw.
Collison, a senior leader who has been on each of UCLA's recent Final Four teams, scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. With 1:30 to play and the Bears knocking on the door, Collison made the biggest play of the night.
With the shot clock about to hit zero, Collison threw a one-handed prayer from the free throw line that somehow rattled its way to the bottom of the net. The shot put the Haas crowd of 11,877 back into their seats. But, more importantly, it increased the Bruin lead to seven points.
"That's why he is what he is," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, referring to Collison.
"The ability to make a play in late clock is probably what separates UCLA from a lot of people. They've got such a tremendous amount of confidence in the ability to score late, particularly with Collison. I just think that Collison is such a clutch player, and he makes plays in critical situations. In late clock, he's as good as there is."
But even then, the Bears still continued their fighting spirit in front of a nationally televised audience. After a pair of Harper Kamp free throws and a Jerome Randle quick three, the Bears found themselves down by only three with 16 seconds remaining in the game. From there, the Bears nearly capitalized on a couple of chances for a steal, and were just one missed free throw away from having one last chance at tying the game.
However, when UCLA guard Josh Shipp hit the second of two free throws, the game finally was in doubt. But the Bears still came out positive about their performance.
"We showed heart… a lot of heart," said Randle. "We didn't give up."
So, say what you want about some of the more negative Cal storylines: committing 12 turnovers in the first half, being on the wrong end of a seven-point possession, and shooting 25% from three-point range in the second half.
But don't discount Cal's heart and vigor in trying to come back and win against a ranked team with tremendous success—both recently and historically. Don't discount an effort that could pay off big dividends in the not-so-distant future.
Jerome Randle didn't.
"This is a learning experience for us," Randle said. "This gets us ready for the postseason."
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