February 27, 2024

From the day he started at UCLA, Mick Cronin said he spelled fun W-I-N.

Over the last two months, as one loss followed another, his team encountered M-I-S-E-R-Y, leaving a segment of the fan base feeling H-O-P-E-L-E-S-S.

So it was invigorating Sunday afternoon for the Bruins to see what transpired inside Pauley Pavilion. Players on the bench roared as Kenneth Nwuba took a charge. Lazar Stefanovic earned an embrace from Brandon Williams after racing to block a fast-break layup from behind. Berke Buyuktuncel clapped his hands over his head while running into the tunnel toward the locker room after the game ended.

For a few hours, basketball was enjoyable again for the team that had traded in the nation’s longest home winning streak for four consecutive losses inside its venerable arena while also losing eight of nine games overall.

Playing with energy, freedom and confidence, UCLA stomped Washington in a 73-61 victory that bore no resemblance to the Bruins’ 46-point loss to Utah three days earlier.

There were strong bounce-back efforts across the board as UCLA (7-10 overall, 2-4 Pac-12) ended a four-game losing streak as well as a four-game home losing streak.

Bullying his way to easy baskets and benefiting from the kinds of crisp entry passes his teammates had struggled to make all season, center Adem Bona scored 22 points while making 10 of 13 shots. Busting out of his season-long shooting slump, Stefanovic made four of seven shots on the way to 15 points.

And in maybe the most encouraging development, point guard Dylan Andrews notched a career-high eight assists to go with seven points, three rebounds and two steals.

The Bruins also made shots for a change, outshooting the Huskies 50% to 40.4% while making six of 14 three-pointers. Playing its usual sturdy defense, UCLA forced 19 turnovers that led to 26 points, including 16 on the fast break.

The victory moved UCLA out of a last-place tie with Oregon State in the conference standings and injected some hope for a turnaround over the season’s final two months.

The Bruins’ most telling statistic might have been their 20 assists given a lack of ball movement that had led to them entering the game ranking last in the conference in points scored per game (64.2).

That figure was largely the result of ranking last in field-goal accuracy (41%), three-point accuracy (28.2%) and assists per game (11.2).

No matter how much defense you play, it’s hard to win when you don’t pass and you can’t shoot.

But these Bruins seemed emboldened by a change in approach from their coach, who mostly let his players stay on the court after mistakes instead of immediately sending them to the bench. The Bruins rewarded their coach with one of their most energetic halves of the season.

UCLA might have found a winning lineup by pairing Jan Vide with Ilane Fibleuil, Buyuktuncel, Andrews and Bona, given that those were the players who sparked the team’s 21-4 run that helped the Bruins take a 30-22 halftime lead.

Vide ran the offense with purpose and hit a three-pointer. Buyuktuncel proved to be a zone buster with his passes, finding Bona and Nwuba underneath the basket for dunks. Fibleuil followed a steal with a layup.

Sahvir Wheeler’s 27 points weren’t nearly enough for the Huskies (10-7, 2-4) on a day they were outclassed by an opponent that appeared to rediscover its mojo.

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