YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Defense Shuts Up, Shuts Down Wildcats


TUCSON — Eight, as it turned out, was enough for the UCLA Bruins.

Enough, of course, for Coach Bob Toledo, the most public face of the team. And most certainly for all the young Bruins who had never won a road game and were starting to wonder what it was like to leave enemy territory with a smile and a dignified posture.

Slumps happen.

But the biggest questions during the Bruins' recent struggles were being asked of the defense. It never got nasty, not like it did in other situations. The team stayed unified and if there was any discontent, well, it stayed quiet.

None of the offense started complaining about scoring 38 points, 38 points and 38 points and still losing two of those three games. Which is why the Bruins' 27-24 victory over No. 24 Arizona on Saturday at Arizona Stadium was so gratifying for the much-maligned defense.

"We needed this. It was a must-win situation," left cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. said. "We had a couple of mistakes in the first half. We stayed together, man. We said, 'I'm with you. I'm marching down this drive with you.'

"We went out there and did what we had to do. That's what it's all about."

The Bruins arrived at Arizona with something of a heavy burden, those eight consecutive road losses.

So how did they pull together this week after losing two games in a row and three of their last four?

"We said, 'Enough talking. Let's go out and do it.' We've been doing a lot of talking," Manning said. "Let's go out and do it. We owned the second half. We've been playing hard in the second half, week in and week out. We said let's go out and do it again."

Manning may be listed at only 5 feet 9, but he was the one who helped establish UCLA's ownership of the second half. His two third-quarter interceptions of Ortege Jenkins turned the momentum and Arizona was held to one field goal in the second half.

In all, Jenkins was intercepted four times and Toledo made sure to give proper due to Manning and the other two players who had interceptions, Rodney Leisle and Marques Anderson.

"Ricky Manning is one of the littlest guys on the team," Toledo said. "It's like anything else. Any time there is a big game, or there are big plays to make, people go to their go-to guys. And those were our go-to guys."

Finally, the road question has been put to rest.

"Who says we can't win on the road?" Toledo said, smiling. "We didn't talk about it this week. We'll play in the parking lot."

Another source of apparent inspiration came from Arizona's band late in the game, shortly before the game-winning touchdown by quarterback Cory Paus with 48 seconds remaining. The Bruin coaches and players kept raving about his grit and leadership abilities.

"He's a gladiator," Toledo said. "That's the tape we played today [of 'Gladiator']. When their band started playing 'Gladiator' our guys started going crazy."

Whether it was music from a popular movie, the interceptions from Manning or the scrambling final touchdown run from Paus, it all added up to the Bruins' first road victory in close to two years. Now, they were able to take a plane ride home not mired in gloom and doom for once.

Said cornerback Jason Bell: "That's what I'm looking forward to. That's when you're with your teammates. These are the guys you sweat with, the guys you bleed with. It's a great feeling. The plane ride home is going to be fun. Tonight there's going to be a whole lot of talking."

Los Angeles Times Articles