Josh Shipp missed the layup, barely lifting himself off the ground. Somehow he got the rebound and his UCLA team still trailed by a basket.
Shipp missed another layup attempt, but again, he got the rebound. On his third attempt, Shipp finally made the layup.
It was Shipp's first and only basket of the tense game against USC at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night and it turned out to be the key play in the second-ranked Bruins' 70-65 victory over the 19th-ranked Trojans.
In the space of about five intense seconds Shipp got fouled, by USC forward Nick Young. Young's teammate Lodrick Stewart, revved up with emotion, slammed the basketball to the floor. He was called for a technical foul and Arron Afflalo made two free throws for Stewart's indiscretion. Shipp made his free throw too, five points for the Bruins and all the momentum.
That was how UCLA (21-2, 10-2), fighting from behind for the first 30 minutes, kept its spot alone at the top of the Pacific-10 Conference.
It was that moment, with 4 minutes 25 seconds left, with USC leading 52-50, that the Bruins took the lead for good. Shipp's basket, coming with his desperate effort on his tired legs, tied the score at 52. Afflalo's technical foul shots put the Bruins ahead, 54-52, only their second lead of the game. Shipp's foul shot made it 55-52.
The Bruins completed a regular-season sweep of the Trojans (18-7, 8-4) despite leading not much more than six minutes of the 80 played between the teams.
"The key thing is to lead at the end," Afflalo said, "when the buzzer goes off. The thing is to keep fighting, to keep making the key plays, all the offensive rebounds Alfred Aboya gets, all the little things everybody else does that keeps us around until we make our move."
Stewart, who wouldn't talk about his technical foul, said, "I don't really see that much of a difference. They're 2-0 on us but I feel we're just as good."
Maybe not quite. The Trojans are now two games behind the Bruins in the conference, though UCLA Coach Howland says, "They are an NCAA tournament team for sure."
So fierce was the competition that the sellout crowd of 12,810 didn't even notice Pauley was practically crawling with governors.
The current California leader, Arnold Schwarzenegger, arrived to no acclaim with 16:09 left in the game and he chatted with Gray Davis, the man he replaced. "Somebody told me they were there," Howland said.
USC made its first five shots of the games. UCLA had four turnovers in less than four minutes including a perfect pass from Shipp to Trojans Coach Tim Floyd. Floyd caught Shipp's chest pass with both hands.
The Trojans made jump shots to soften up UCLA's defense and after the jump shots (back-to-back three-pointers from Stewart and Dwight Lewis) came the layups (Young, who had a game-high 20 points, Taj Gibson, Pruitt, Young again). With that USC led 20-10 and Howland was calling timeout. Also confounding the Bruins was USC's 2-3 zone defense.
"They did a great job in that," said Bruins point guard Darren Collison who finished with a team-high 17 points. "Normally they play man-to-man. Their 2-3 was a little more extended, something we don't normally see."
After falling behind by as many as seven points in the second half, Afflalo (16 points) gave UCLA its first lead of the game, 50-48, with 5:50 left in the game.
It was a stress-relieving slam dunk that came after a steal that Howland called the key play of the game. Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (11 points, 10 rebounds) double-teamed Pruitt. Collison got the steal and gave the assist to running Afflalo.
"There were a lot of plays toward the end we wish we could have back," Pruitt said. "Plays we need to get past that hump."
The happy Bruins have an early-morning flight today heading to a Saturday matchup at West Virginia. "The flight is going to be a lot nicer now," Shipp said. "Thank goodness."