They gathered around the middle of the court to quickly gather in a heap in the last seconds, arms wrapped around their shoulders, several players jumping up and down with joy after everything seemed so bleak just a few minutes ago.
Tiger Campbell kicked Jaime Hackes Jr. with his chest in anticipation of the new celebration, Hackes waving his arms to amplify the noise inside the bustling Paulie Pavilion.
In a top-five head-off to live up to the hype, the ranked runner-up UCLA overcame its offensive impatience and inability to get a halt by eliminating a 10-point deficit in the second half of a pulsating 86-77 overtime win, Villanova finished fourth ahead of a crowd of 13 659 notices.
The Bruins (2-0) opened 74-69 in the extra period after Johnny Juzang buried a jumper and Campbell pulled back into the basket and passed to Jacques for a three-pointer.
Failing to take one free throw until 5 minutes 29 seconds remaining in regular time because he was constantly chasing jump shots, UCLA took all 12 free throws in overtime to avoid additional late drama.
The Bruins forced extra time after fixing a 60-50 deficit in the last nine minutes of regular time. UCLA sophomore defender Jaylen Clark, who replaced Juzang for the last-minute defense, made a powerful rebound that allowed Jules Bernard to bet on the dangling float and level the score with 30 seconds left.
Clarke also had a hand in the final game of the rules, strongly challenging Justin Moore’s miss that missed and bounced on the buzzer.
Juzan scored 25 points in the game, nine out of 24 after a relatively calm six points in the first half. Jacques added 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Bernard scored 16 points and 9 rebounds.
Jermaine Samuels topped the Wildcats (1-1) with 20 points.
The spectacle of the first off-conference game with the top five teams at the Pauley Pavilion was very loud. The students slept at camp for tickets, and the celebrity list included actress Jessica Alba and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a former Bruins baseball star.
After a spotlight was installed on the doors leading to the UCLA locker room before the game, boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer in a white tuxedo appeared on the screen, picked up the microphone and said, “Let’s get ready for the rumble!” bullshit.
Jiuzang started the second half with hot shooting reminiscent of his forays in the NCAA tournaments. He made his first five shots, connecting a straight bouncer, a three-point transition, a track runner, a spin he followed a jumper, and another jumper to bolster the Bruins’ backstroke odds and a fourth game.
Unfortunately for UCLA, Villanova was even hotter, making nine of 11 shots, while leading 60-50 with Collin Gillespie’s three-pointers. The Bruins sent their fans into yet another frenzy when Campbell ran his three-pointers back-to-back to 60-56 before Samuels responded with three-pointers that extended the Wildcats’ lead to 63-56.
The energy belied the bedtime start, which was even more absurd to Philadelphia TV viewers at 11:30 pm. It’s the latest addition to the UCLA schedule this season, a tribute to busy sports weekends that take up more attractive time slots.
The game was the prelude to more important non-conference matches as coach Mick Cronin’s efforts to build an alluring schedule were set to play the Bruins’ top Gonzaga later this month and number 19 in North Carolina in December.
It was clear that the quality of the opponent had improved by more than a few notches from UCLA’s first season against Cal State Bakersfield in just a few moments of play. Gillespie pulled up a pull-up over Juzan to level the score, and the Wildcats were constantly giving up balls as part of a defensive festival.
Juzan got the crowd rocking with the jumper between the halves, giving the Bruins a 32-30 lead in a game that involved sharp fluctuations in momentum. The basket ended the UCLA streak 7-0, ending the half after Villanova pulled ahead with a 16-2 push, thanks to five Bruins’ losses in 5 and a half minutes.
UCLA played without senior red-shirt striker Cody Riley, who dislocated his left knee medial lateral ligament during the season opening and will be scrapped next week. Riley is expected to miss at least a few games.