Nebraska gave No. 14 UCLA all it wanted, cutting a 15-point halftime deficit to two before the Bruins pulled away in with an 82-71 victory late Saturday in the Wooden Legacy.
The Huskers, who fell to 4-1, got a career-high 27 from sophomore Glynn Watson Jr. and 19 points and seven assists from Tai Webster, hung around for most of the second half until Bryce Alford scored six of his 18 points in a 11-5 surge to keep the Bruins (6-0) unbeaten.
Watson scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half, hitting 8-of-11 shots from the field after intermission while Webster scored 13 second-half points to keep the Huskers (4-1) within striking distance until late.
The Huskers, who UCLA to a season-low 82 point after the Bruins entered the matchup averaging a national-best 104.4 points per contest, struggled offensively in the first half, shooting 29 percent as UCLA closed the half on a 16-6 run to build a 13-point halftime lead at 38-25.
Alford led five Bruins (6-0) in double figures, as Isaac Hamilton had 13 points, while Lonzo Ball had 13 points and seven assists before fouling out.
With the loss, the Huskers will play Virginia Tech in the third-place game Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU and will be carried on the IMG Husker Sports Network.
The Huskers fell behind early before running off six straight points to take a 10-9 lead after an Anton Gill 3-pointer with 12:28 left in the half. That would be the Huskers’ only lead, as UCLA regained the lead with five answered points. Nebraska was within 22-19 after a Watson jumper, but UCLA ran off nine straight points, capped by a Hamilton 3-pointer, that pushed the Bruins’ lead to 31-19 with 2:14 left before halftime.
The Bruins stretched the lead to 15 in the opening minute of the second half, but the Huskers would respond, as Watson scored four points in a 6-0 surge to get the lead back to 40-31 with 18:13 left. The Huskers would continue to claw back, as the Husker backcourt keyed an 11-2 surge, cutting a 49-37 deficit to 51-48 following a Watson jumper with 13:43 left.
But every time the Huskers got close, the Bruins would respond, as Ball scored five straight points to push the lead to 56-48. NU would continue to fight as 3-pointers from Webster and Watson made it a two-point game, at 58-56, with 9:26 left.
UCLA would respond, as a Hamilton 3-pointer highlighted a 9-2 UCLA spurt to push the lead back to 67-57 after a pair of Thomas Welsh free throws with 6:14 left. The Huskers would regroup, pulling to within 69-64 on a Watson 3-pointer and had a chance to get closer, but could not capitalize, as Hamilton’s third 3-pointer of the night pushed the lead back to eight. NU would pull to within 72-66 after a Webster steal and basket with 2:57 left, but would get no closer the rest of the way.
*-Glynn Watson Jr. finished with 27 points, topping his previous best of 23 set in the season opener against Sacramento State. It marked Watson's second career 20-point effort.
*-Watson's three 3-pointers were a career high
*-Tai Webster dished out a career-high seven assists, topping his previous best of five on several occasions. Webster has beem in double figures in all four of NU's contests.
*-Nebraska held UCLA to 82 points, 24 points below its season average
*-Nebraska committed a season-low six turnovers
UCLA Coach Steve Alford – “I told the team that we needed this game. We haven’t had a game like that this year where adversity hit us. We played awfully well in the first half defensively and felt we got comfortable and satisfied. It was a great lesson for us. Nebraska is a well-coached team and they guarded us well. I liked how we handled adversity, especially after their guard hurt us. The backboard hurt us in the second half a lot. We had adversity, Lonzo (Ball) fouled out and we haven’t had to deal with that yet. We haven’t had to deal with getting punched in the face like we got punched and I liked how we responded. We did the things we had to do with a near three to one assist to turnover ratio. I was pleased in a lot of ways with our team tonight.”
On outside speculation of a UCLA national championship this year? – “That’s not my place to say. That’s Lavar (Bell) and that’s what makes Lavar special. It’s what he has demanded out of all three of his boys and that’s excellence. That’s what we are at UCLA, we are trying to achieve excellence and doing everything we can to get to that point. This is a fun team but we have a long way to go. We are a good team and we are trying to become a great team. I love this team. They are very coachable, they are good people to begin with and they love the game. If that means one day down the road it leads to something special, these kids are deserving of that. ”
On playing in the championship game at the Wooden Legacy?- “It means a lot for a lot of reasons. Coach Wooden’s name is on it and what he means to our institution and his legacy of creating excellence both in the classroom and on the basketball court. That is something our guys take seriously. Secondly, we have talked about this as a team and it’s our first chance to win a championship. It doesn’t mean that you’ll have postseason success but the final four teams last year all won an exempt tournament. If that is a goal of ours, as it is, we want to take those steps towards trying to get to that point. Knowing that this championship could have coach Wooden’s name on it is an extra bonus.”
On playing in the national spotlight on Sunday? – “At UCLA we are on national television every game and national exposure happens at UCLA whether it is primetime or not. Texas A&M played early today and has gotten a lot of rest and we need to let our guys get their rest because we are playing a very good team who is really well coached regardless of what time it is. Regardless if there is anyone watching, it’s about how can we get to be a great basketball team. Right now we are good and we are truly after greatness.”
UCLA Guard Bryce Alford on his play down the stretch?- “As a basketball player, those are the kind of moments you live for. That is something I have always prided myself on as being someone who can make smart plays down the stretch to help our team win games. ”
UCLA Guard Lonzo Ball on his play tonight?- “I think I played alright but obviously I fouled out tonight and don’t want that to happen. Bryce stepped up and the rest of the team had my back and that’s what is great about this team. Everybody plays for each other and not for themselves.”
On his father’s encouragement? – “I’m thankful that’s how he is, loud. I’m his son, so why wouldn’t he want the best from me?”
Nebraska Coach Tim Miles – “UCLA is an excellent team. Coach Alford has a lot of weapons on that team, a lot of guys that can hurt you. I thought we were tentative in the first half and that is not like us, second half is more of a snapshot of what we’re like. But every time we got the game down to 2 or 3 points, they answered. Alford made some tough shots, Holiday made some shots, and they hurt us. We didn’t get enough outside shooting, quite frankly. Outside of Glynn and Tai, the other guys were 1-14. You can’t beat a ranked team semi on the road with that kind of production, or lack thereof.”
On overcome shooting in first half – “I don’t think I had them moving around enough. We were kind of trying to space the floor, and see if we could get some guards out then to create ball movement from there. I think I had to get our guys moving more, we did that more in the second half but probably didn’t make that adjustment quick enough first half. And we missed some really easy shots; I think we missed one or two dunks and layups. And UCLA made some good blocks at the rim and did some good things. I think I counted seven maybe eight missed shots and they had one block I’m pretty sure was a goal-tend, but that’s just how it goes. You can’t have that many missed outside shots and miss that many inside too.”
On Tai Webster – “Tai is kind of out of line; he’s our only senior surrounded by seven freshmen and sophomores. I think he’s done a great job of showing them how to lead and how to play with the correct mindset. Some guys are figuring that out and some guys are feeding off of it, sometimes, some are feeding off it all the time. I think he’s a really good role model for our young guys and I’m just so impressed with how he’s gotten better and better each year.”
On the team’s development over the past two days – “We told them before that it was going to be amazing the growth we were going to see in three days win, lose, or draw. And I believe that it will continue. Virginia Tech is going to be a whole new set of circumstances. They are a tough, gritty, energetic, physical team. They’re going to throw multiple defenses at you. And they will play with high, high energy. We have to bounce back, we can’t hang our heads. Tomorrow we can go mope around and hang out with Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey, that’s fine. But on Sunday, we need to be ready to go in and go to battle.
Nebraska’s Tai Webster on feeling frustrated and going into Sunday – “I feel encouraged more than anything. This is a great learning curve for our young guys, I think this will really stay in the back of their minds and we will only move forward from here.”
On playing UCLA – “Obviously they are a really talented team and they do what they do well on transitions. I think they get a lot of buckets just on their athleticism. Overall, I think they’re a tough team and hard to match up against but, at the same time, I don’t think we gave them our best shot. In the second half, we gave them good 15 minutes and we can’t afford only 15 minutes of anything.”