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January 26, 2014

UCLA tops Cal to climb the standings

UCLA capitalized on its home stretch by defeating California on Sunday, but it didn't come without a fight from the Golden Bears.

After beating Stanford on Thursday, the Bruins had an opportunity to tack on another win before heading on the road to Oregon next week.

UCLA came out storming thanks to a tremendous first-half performance from senior forward David Wear, who tied his season-high of 16 points in the first half.

Wear was coming off a game in which he played a season-low 12 minutes because of an illness that caused him to miss a few practices.

"I was just being active and playing with energy," said Wear, who said he was coughing during the game but was almost back to full health. "I was just making sure I was putting myself in a position to make a play on the ball and get open shots."

While he eventually made a pair of free throws that boosted his game total to a career-high 18, those would be the only points Wear would score in the second half, as he didn't make a field goal in the final 20-minute period.

Nonetheless, Wear's hot hand set UCLA on a 14-2 run that helped the Bruins establish a comfortable 14-point lead, 33-19, with 5:07 left in the first half.

Cal then responded with eight unanswered points, but UCLA managed to bump the lead back up to double digits, 40-29, heading into the locker room.

Riding the momentum of the first half, UCLA began the second half on a 13-2 run during which Kyle Anderson scored seven consecutive points that increased the Bruins lead to 19 - 51-32 - with 15:19 remaining in the game.

After scoring a mere two points in the first half, Anderson rallied for 15 points in the second half. He finished the game with 12 rebounds and five assists against four turnovers.

With Cal ice-cold from the field, not scoring a field-goal until nearly eight minutes into the second half, it seemed like UCLA would effortlessly cruise to its fifth conference victory.

However, the Golden Bears put up an unrelenting fight to avoid losing two straight games after winning their first five conference games.

After Cal finally knocked down its first field-goal of the second half with 12:17 remaining in the game, the team set off on a surging 18-2 run that narrowed UCLA's lead to three, 53-50, with 9:16 left on the clock.

"We got a little bit careless offensively and then that affected our transition defense," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. "They made a big-time run and I have to credit that to them."

During Cal's run, freshman guard Jabari Bird, who was scoreless in the first half, exploded for 12 points, which ultimately proved his game total.

"It was a boost to my confidence, but I didn't have the energy," Bird said. "If I hadn't missed the three weeks due to injury and we had gone on that same run, I think we could have pushed through and caught them."

With guard Jordan Matthews (18 pts, 6-for-12) threatening to single-handedly snag the lead for Cal with a series of jumpers, UCLA needed an offensive surge to keep the Golden Bears at bay.

That was assembled by none other than freshman guard Bryce Alford.

Running the point, Alford orchestrated a few vital baskets for UCLA, including a beautifully constructed drive to the basket that increased the Bruins' lead back to nine points, 64-55, with 4:38 to go.

"We kind of got stagnant there for a little bit, so I called a couple plays for Kyle," Bryce Alford said. "We needed to get him the ball. … He got some easy baskets, and then we set good screens and I just got to the rack a couple times."

"I thought, for a freshman backup point guard and in that kind of pressure game, to make some of the plays and drives and finishes to the basket, that was huge," Steve Alford said.

A timeout from Cal head coach Mike Montgomery couldn't recharge the Golden Bears' attempt to surpass the deficit, and UCLA held on to the lead, which it didn't relinquish once during the span of the game, for a 76-64 victory.

"I thought we made some really key plays to get it back to a two-, three-possession game where it gave us a little bit of room and some momentum," Steve Alford said. "It was a great win."

Sunday's victory bumps UCLA's conference record to 5-2 (16-4 overall), worthy of being tied with Cal for a second-place slot in the Pac-12, before it plays five out of its next seven games away from Westwood.

"Getting to 5-2 is going to be big because now five of our next seven are on the road," Steve Alford said. "We kind of flip the schedule, and that's not easy."

The Bruins will begin that stretch by taking on the Oregon schools, beginning in Eugene on Thursday against Oregon.


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