June 21, 2024

This one didn’t need a miracle shot to be frustrating.

Unable to stop picking up fouls or slow down an offensive juggernaut who practically couldn’t miss, UCLA found a new way to fall to an old nemesis.

Out of sorts from practically the opening tip, the Bruins never could sustain any rhythm during a 69-65 loss to No. 11 Gonzaga on Wednesday night at the Stan Sheriff Center in the fifth-place game at the Maui Invitational.

There was some late drama after UCLA’s Lazar Stefanovic made a three-pointer to pull his team within 66-63 with 56 seconds left. The Bruins got the ball back after double-teaming Andrew Nembhard, leading to a steal by Ilane Fibleuil.

But UCLA sophomore guard Dylan Andrews missed a jumper and freshman guard Sebastian Mack missed a contested layup on back-to-back possessions, ending any chances of completing the comeback.

It was Gonzaga’s fourth victory over UCLA in as many years, with Anton Watson adding his name to a growing list of Bulldogs villains that includes Jalen Suggs, Julian Strawther and Drew Timme. Watson was unstoppable no matter who did — or didn’t — defend him, the forward often slipping past his man for baskets or spotting up for three-pointers on the way to 32 points while making 14 of 15 shots.

Stefanovic and Mack each had 16 points for UCLA in a game featuring a combined 51 fouls between the teams.

A ragged showing by the Bruins (4-2) on both ends of the court was a step back two nights after what appeared to be a breakthrough against Marquette in a close defeat.

Of course, all those fouls didn’t help.

UCLA’s Adem Bona picked up his fourth foul with 9:48 left and teammate Kenneth Nwuba fouled out 10 seconds later.

Once down 13 points in the first half, UCLA took a 41-40 lead early in the second half on Bona’s hook shot. But the Bruins’ already grim foul situation quickly became dire. Bona picked up his third foul and headed to the bench alongside Nwuba and Aday Mara, who were already there with four fouls and three fouls, respectively.

That forced seldom-used freshmen Devin Williams and Brandon Williams onto the floor, an unexpected development in a game of this magnitude. Gonzaga embarked on a 13-1 run that Bona’s return couldn’t halt, taking a 53-42 lead on Watson’s three-pointer.

UCLA trailed 38-34 at the end of a foul-riddled first half that often felt like it was on the verge of becoming a runaway in Gonzaga’s favor.

The teams combined for 29 fouls, with the issue particularly acute among the Bruins big men. Nwuba picked up three fouls to go with Bona and Mara each getting two. Bona also was repeatedly beaten to the basket by Watson, earning him the wrath of coach Mick Cronin in a timeout huddle.

Watson made his first seven shots on the way to 15 first-half points, finally missing when defended by UCLA’s Ilane Fibleuil.

Meanwhile, the Bruins could not find a reliable source of offense besides making 17 of 23 free throws. They went eight minutes without a field goal during one stretch and fell behind by as many as 13 points.

UCLA happily accepted a circus shot by Mack in which the freshman guard drove into multiple defenders in the lane before flinging the ball high into the air. With his back to the basket, the ball fell through the net to roars from the stunned crowd. Mack was fouled on the play and made the free throw to convert a three-point play.

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