SEATTLE — Back in the town that treated them warmly during their last visit a few months ago, the UCLA Bruins won the last dash again Saturday night.
The first 38 minutes was all stoops and stumbles for the Bruins, and the quick Washington Huskies had them tied up and tied, 70-70, with 1:46 to play.
Then, as the noise grew and the game was on the line, the 24 turnovers (12 by guard Toby Bailey) and the weird shot selection was forgotten, and UCLA bounded to a 78-70 victory before a sellout crowd of 7,900 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"Those are things I think I'm going to just have to live with," UCLA Coach Jim Harrick said, referring to his team's now habitual staggering starts.
"But I just get frustrated. When you have four years with Tyus Edney--and Dollar's still hurting--you've got to learn to have more patience.
"I'm going to be Job before this season's over."
UCLA (9-3, 2-0 in conference play) also grabbed victory away from Washington State Thursday night, scrambling back from a late deficit to pull away in overtime.
"When we forget to think, we play better," Harrick said. "And that's the way it is in the end, you get lost in the action, and you just play. When we get lost in the game, we're much better."
The two road victories--coupled with two losses each by Arizona and Washington State--apparently gives the Bruins a huge leg up in the conference race's early going.
"I don't think anybody's going to be wanting to come up here in the second half of the season, when [Washington State star Mark] Hendrickson's healthy," Harrick said. "We're fortunate to come out with two victories."
Dropped into a zone for most of the second half to protect against Washington's penetrating three-guard offense, the Bruins held Washington (8-3, 1-1) to three-of-21 shooting from three-point distance on the night and only 28 points in the second half, after Washington barreled to 42 in the first.
"[The zone] was big," said forward J.R. Henderson, who led all scorers with 22 points--14 in the second half. "They were causing problems with their penetration. And we kind of got Mark Sanford out of his one-on-one game."
Behind Henderson's eight-for-12 night, UCLA, by contrast, made 30 of its 48 shots (62.5%), including 17 of 19 free-throw attempts.
But the game was won and lost in the last 1:46, when the Huskies couldn't get up a decent shot and UCLA forced Washington into fouls on the other end--and made all six of its free throw tries.
"Out of all the Pac-10 schools, Stanford has some experience, but we've got a lot of big-time, big-game experience," Bailey said. "We've got a lot of clutch players we can go to, and it shows in the final moments."
The Bruins, though conceding it'd be better to win a little more easily, said that the knowledge they can succeed in crunch time is comforting.
"We were just thinking to keep it tight until the end," said Henderson, who has 79 points in his last three games at the Washington schools.
"We're young, but we have a lot of tournament experience. We felt if we could keep it close until the final minutes, we knew we could win it."
And how does he explain his dominance of Washington teams?
"I must feel like I want to get home so much I want to hurry up and get it over with," Henderson said.
Though this was UCLA's seventh victory in a row after a 2-3 start, Bailey, for his part, said there were plenty of problems to work out. Looking tentative, and hearing constant "Tooo-beee, Tooo-beee" taunting from the crowd, Bailey was out of his rhythm from the start.
"It was indecisiveness," said Bailey, who had been playing well at the point guard spot since Cameron Dollar went to the bench to heal his right pinky last month.
"Usually on the break I'm one of the best finishers. But tonight I tried to pass, get other people involved, and it was the wrong thing."
At one point late in the game, Henderson pulled Bailey over, and told him to calm down.
After Washington made a free throw to tie it at 70, Bailey lost the ball to guard Jason Hamilton on the Bruins' next possession.
But from that point, with 52.4 seconds left, Bailey was fouled and made both free throws, Washington blew an alley-oop pass to Sanford, who led Washington with 20 points, Henderson made two free throws with 32.6 seconds left, Washington missed a three-point shot, and Charles O'Bannon scored the final four points with two free throws and a reverse dunk.
And UCLA survived another one.
"We're going to get hit by the bullets pretty soon," Bailey said. "We can't keep dodging them."