This was a chance for UCLA to find out how it would handle a little success.
Quite well, it turns out.
The Bruins composed themselves just when they needed to Wednesday night and emerged with an 82-74 victory over Stanford in their final trip to Maples Pavilion as a member of the Pac-12 Conference.
It was UCLA’s fourth consecutive victory and sixth in its last seven games while also continuing a revenge tour after the Cardinal beat the Bruins last month at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA (12-11 overall, 7-5 Pac-12) also moved ahead of Stanford (11-11, 6-6) in the battle for a top-four seeding that comes with a bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Of course, the Bruins harbor much higher ambitions than that.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin had likened his players’ recent surge to a street fight, saying they learned to scratch and claw their way to victory.
Bruins backup center Kenneth Nwuba symbolized that grit when he came off the bench to swipe the ball from Stanford’s Maxime Raynaud for a steal that gave UCLA the ball with a 72-67 lead and 1:55 left.
UCLA center Adem Bona then powered his way for a layup and the Bruins were about to pull away. Afterward, Nwuba earned a hug from former UCLA center Myles Johnson, who watched the game from behind the team bench.
Freshman guard Sebastian Mack finished with 21 points for the Bruins, who made a season-high 11 three-pointers on 25 attempts. Bona added 16 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 49 seconds left.
Raynaud scored a team-high 20 points for Stanford, which lost while shooting 52.8% because it did not convert its usual barrage of three-pointers.
Earlier this week, Cronin said the best way to counteract Stanford’s three-pointers — the Cardinal entered the game making a conference-best 9.5 per game while shooting 39.1% — was to not let any be taken.
UCLA was largely successful on that front, with Stanford making just four of 17 (23.5%) from long range.
There was some significant concern when Bona sustained a left hand injury that forced him out of the game with eight minutes left after he gutted his way through making two free throws to give the Bruins a 59-55 lead.
Bona went to the bench to get his hand examined by trainer Tyler Lesher while Nwuba replaced him. Bona was able to return a minute later, but Cronin might have wished he hadn’t because he committed a foul 94 feet from the basket that gave Stanford two free throws. Having committed his fourth foul, Bona immediately departed in favor of Aday Mara, who went on to make two big free throws.
It was that kind of night for the Bruins, getting contributions from across the board while pulling together once again.