Five seconds remained in the first half when UCLA’s Lonzo Ball dialed one up from a different planet, canning a 3-pointer from the center court logo at Pauley Pavilion.
The shot from deep tied the game at 50, the latest ludicrous shot in a matchup that seemed to be following a defense-optional rule.
The scoring didn’t end with Ball’s long triple, but the trend quickly started to favor the Bruins, as the Michigan men’s basketball team fell victim to UCLA’s high-scoring offense and came up short in a barnburner, 102-84.
“They only missed 19 times and they got nine of those back, so that hurt, too,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Now, the ball bounced our way a couple of times. I thought we got off to a good start, but I mean, they made some shots in that game that we were right in them. …That takes the wind out of you after a little bit.”
Michigan knew it would have its hands full entering the matchup against the second-ranked Bruins. UCLA (10-0) was averaging 97 points per game — good for second in the nation — and was coming off a marquee road win against then-top-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 3.
In the first half, though, Michigan (7-3) rode its success from beyond the arc and looked poised to go toe to toe with the Bruins’ juggernaut offense.
The Wolverines opened the game with a 3-pointer from senior guard Derrick Walton Jr., and they didn’t shy away from the triple for the rest of the frame, shooting 75 percent from deep.
UCLA, delivering a dominant showing in its own right, went 10-for-14 from three and handed over the reigns to Ball, who poured in 14 points in the first half.
Neither team seemed capable of missing, but Michigan led for just 5:47 of the first half. It did so without its third-leading scorer in sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, who played just 12 minutes after picking up two fouls in the first frame.
Still, despite Wagner’s absence, Michigan led by seven with 1:22 left. Much like their games against Texas and Virginia Tech, though, the Wolverines allowed UCLA to go on a 9-2 run — capped off by Ball’s long three — to close the half.
By the time the first buzzer sounded, it seemed the stars might have been aligning for Michigan to pull off an upset.
But in the second half, trying to beat the Bruins at their own game caught up to Michigan.
As quickly as the shots from beyond the arc gave the Wolverines life, they took away any hope of surviving against the Bruins. Michigan shot just 2-for-10 from deep in the second half and posted a field-goal percentage of 34.5. If the first half was perfect, then the second was just the perfect storm.
UCLA claimed an eight-point lead after posting an 8-2 run over the first three minutes, as the Wolverines opened the second half 1-for-6 from the floor, and never trailed from there.
Though the Wolverines kept the margin at 10 points or fewer for roughly 15 minutes, eventually, the second-ranked offense in the country turned a shootout into an offensive clinic. The Bruins missed just seven shots in the second half, and with 4:31 left, Bryce Alford and TJ Leaf put daggers into Michigan’s hopes for an upset.
Behind Leaf’s dunk and Alford’s free throws and 3-pointer, UCLA scored seven unanswered points to claim a 16-point lead. The Wolverines had no answer from there, as they never cut the deficit below 14. While the Bruins’ offense only got hotter, Michigan’s was put on ice.
“(UCLA’s) really good at what they do,” Beilein said. “They spread you out. They’ve got shooters everywhere. We tried to take away the three ball and give them the tough two, and we didn’t do either one very well. When they would see the matchup they liked, they would just take us. And so if you’re giving a lot of help, they’re a really good passing team. This is a rare team right now that shoots the ball at that level and can really pass the ball.”
For 20 minutes, there was the hope that the Wolverines would be taking off from a California runway with a marquee win of its own under its belt. But by the end of the second 20, they could only leave with the thought of what could have been.