Home @ Capital One Arena Washington, DC2020 February 20th at 4:00pm
Home @ Little Caesars Arena Detroit, MI2020 February 20th at 4:00pm
As Cody Riley collected the offensive rebound, a rumble rose inside Pauley Pavilion, the crowd anticipating another basket from the player who had generated nearly all of his team’s recent offense.
Riley delivered again, his putback extending UCLA’s lead during an 86-83 overtime victory over Washington State on Thursday night that belonged almost exclusively to the redshirt sophomore forward in the final minutes.
UCLA’s baskets in overtime told the story: Riley layup, Riley layup, Riley layup, Riley layup, Riley putback. He added a free throw after getting fouled on the first layup and scored 11 of his 19 points in the extra period, helping the Bruins complete their largest comeback this season after having trailed by 12 early in the second half and four with 3:19 left in regulation.
“That’s the definition of beast mode,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said of Riley, who made all five of his shots in overtime and nine of 10 for the game.
UCLA found the late-game execution that was missing when these teams met last month and the Cougars prevailed in overtime. Bruins guard Chris Smith, who lost the ball in the final seconds of regulation in that game, made a baseline jumper with 16 seconds left in the second half Thursday to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Riley opened the extra period by powering in for a layup in which he was fouled, making the free throw to complete the three-point play. The surging Bruins (14-11 overall, 7-5 Pac-12 Conference) would go on to lead for the balance of the overtime on the way to their sixth victory in eight games.
“Once I got the ball in the post and saw it go in, it gave me a lot of confidence,” Riley said. “My teammates got me the ball in the right position and I just rebounded aggressively and the ball went in, so it was a good feeling.”
Much of the final minutes were an extended celebration centering on Riley. He earned a flying body bump from Tyger Campbell after taking a pass from the freshman point guard and banking in a layup to give the Bruins a 79-73 lead. Later there was a playful backhanded slap to the chest from Smith after Riley swatted a shot by Washington State’s CJ Elleby.
Said UCLA freshman guard Jaime Jaquez Jr.: “He was a monster tonight. That’s all I have to say. He was a monster.”
Said Smith, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds: “I was loving it, bro. That’s my dog. We got in the huddle and I was like, ‘Man, play defense and feed Cody.’ We did those two things and we got the ‘dub.’”
Isaac Bonton scored 23 points before leaving with an injury late in the overtime and Jeff Pollard added 20 points for the Cougars (14-11, 5-7).
Cronin said every game had become a tournament game for his team because of its struggles earlier this season, leaving no margin for error in the Bruins’ bid to make the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve got to play with desperation,” Cronin said after his team moved to within one game of first place in the Pac-12.
Washington State was supposed to be the equivalent of a first-round bye, having gone 3-58 in its previous meetings against UCLA in Los Angeles and not having won here since 2009.
Cronin acknowledged his team didn’t play with urgency defensively to start the game, allowing the Cougars to shoot 50% in the first half and putting the Bruins on the verge of a huge step backward after their stirring road win over nationally ranked Arizona before they righted themselves.
“We’re making the steps forward to become a really good team,” Jaquez said, “and become a team that other teams are scared to play.”
The Bruins made it through the nonconference portion of their schedule with bad losses (Hofstra, Cal State Fullerton) but no good wins, leaving them with considerable ground to make up in Pac-12 play.
The conventional thinking has been that a 12-6 conference record or better would be sufficient for Pac-12 teams to make the NCAA tournament, but even that mark might not be good enough for UCLA given its early stumbles.
The only sure way in for the Bruins is to win out, including the conference tournament. Win No. 1 came in memorable fashion, thanks to Riley.
“It’s not really about me, it’s about the team,” Riley said. “We got the win and we’re trying to go on a streak and win a lot of games and get in the tournament.”