UCLA had another vital opportunity to retain its possession of second place in the Pac-12 on Thursday as it faced a Colorado team that was vying to usurp the Bruins for the No. 2 slot.
The Bruins began the game surging.
After winning the opening tip, Travis Wear got the Bruins on the board first by scrapping for a tip-in. His twin brother, David, then drained a three on UCLA's ensuing possession. The Wears would help UCLA establish an early 11-3 lead by scoring nine of the Bruins' opening points.
With a strong opening and momentum in its favor, it appeared as though UCLA was poised to dominate Colorado after beating the Buffs by 13 on their home floor just weeks ago.
However, Colorado proved it just needed a few minutes to warm up.
Led by the interior dominance of the Buffaloes' 6-foot-10, 245-pound sophomore forward Josh Scott, Colorado set off on a 14-4 run that gave it a 17-15 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. Scott recorded his second straight 20-point performance with 20 points on the night.
UCLA's bench, which has helped spark the Bruins in key moments, was ineffective when it first entered the game and allowed Colorado to plump its lead by committing careless turnovers on the offensive end. The Bruins' bench was responsible for five of the team's seven turnovers heading into halftime.
Colorado capitalized on UCLA's sloppiness by extending its lead to as many as 12 points in the first half.
After the Buffaloes' Xavier Talton, who was starting only his third game of the season, knocked down a tandem of three-pointers to put Colorado up 11, the Bruins then scored nine unanswered points to zap within two points of taking the lead, 36-34, with 1:15 left in the half.
However, Colorado ensured that momentum remained in its favor heading into the halftime locker room when Scott threw down a dunk as the buzzer sounded to keep the Buffs' lead at four, 40-36.
"We couldn't get defensive stops there from about the 12-minute mark of the first half all the way to the completion of the half and that's what we talked about at halftime, was our energy and effort of getting defensive stops," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said.
Much like the first half, the second period began with a flurry from the Wear brothers.
Travis, who recorded his third double-figure scoring effort in four games with 13 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting, knocked down a jumper to get UCLA started on the offensive end in the second half.
With Scott continuing to torment the Bruins in the paint, Colorado managed to hang on to the lead in the early stages of the second half.
However, UCLA then began to intensify its defensive pressure and decelerate Scott and the streaking Buffaloes' offense. While he finished with 20 points, Scott would only make one field goal in the final 15 minutes of the game.
"In the first half, he was leaking out a little bit and getting some easy buckets in transition," Travis Wear said of Scott. "He was running the floor really well tonight. I think we keyed in on that in the second half and tried to limit his easy buckets around the hoop."
The Bruins then took their first lead of the second half with a layup from sophomore guard Jordan Adams, who finished with 17 points for the second straight game.
After Adams made a free-throw to complete the three-point play, UCLA received much-needed backup from a guard who has fallen out of the conversation as of late: Bryce Alford.
The freshman guard, who began the game on a 22-percent shooting spell with an 0-for-9 shooting game in UCLA's first game against Colorado, knocked down a pair of back-to-back treys within 25 seconds of each other that increased UCLA's lead to eight, 61-53, with 12:11 to play.
Alford would finish the night with 14 points on 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, which is more than he'd scored in his previous three games.
"When you make two in a row, or just your first one, it ends up being a lot easier to score," the freshman backup point guard said. "Your eyes start opening up and the hoop just seems to be a little bit bigger. My teammates did a great job of finding me and getting me open, so it made it a lot easier."
"I was really proud because ... he missed his first one ... so I'm sure, as a young player, [he had] the thoughts of, 'Oh, I just can't make a shot against Colorado!'" Steve Alford said. "He couldn't blame the altitude [this time] ... He came out in the second half and he really gave us a lift. ... I thought he was a big key tonight of separating us and giving us a cushion that we could play with."
Fortunately for the Bruins, Alford wasn't the only player who was on fire from the perimeter. Despite an 0-for-5 three-point effort from Jordan Adams, UCLA finished 11-for-22 from downtown. The Bruins finished the game shooting 56.5 percent - their best effort since their conference opener against USC (57.7%).
Kyle Anderson, who knocked down a pair of threes himself, finished the game with a team-high 22 points, scoring eight points in the game's final six minutes.
"We got back to sharing the ball really well," Anderson said. "Guys made the extra pass."
Anderson, who has been a facilitating machine all season, made a few dazzling passes on Thursday that ran up his assist total to 11, tying a career high.
Colorado continued to battle with UCLA down to the wire, twice splitting the lead to five after the Bruins increased it to 10, but UCLA spurted beyond the Buffaloes in the final minutes, shutting out Colorado in the last four minutes.
When the final buzzer sounded, UCLA had padded its lead to 18 for a 92-74 victory and its eighth conference win (19-5, 8-3).
"The second half, what we put together was just really good basketball," Steve Alford said. "Hats off to our guys. They worked awfully hard tonight."
Click UCLA now turns its attention to Utah, which defeated the Bruins in Salt Lake City just weeks ago. The Bruins will close out their two-game home stretch against the Utes on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion. Here to view this Link.