UCLA stayed above the muddle because Kyle Anderson conducted and the Bruins played.
When they had wrapped up a second-half push for a 92-74 victory over Colorado at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night, there was nothing to do but look ahead.
February sets up March. That has been Coach Steve Alford's refrain the past week.
"How you play in February dictates what happens in March," Alford said. "It's hard if you're not playing well in February to set up a big kind of March run."
The Bruins (19-5 overall, 8-3 in Pac-12 Conference play) may not be ready to run just yet, but they did take a step toward spring.
Anderson had a standard night — 22 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds. He had eight points and two assists in the final six minutes to make sure the Bruins didn't squander a 78-71 lead.
Yet, it was also hard to pick him out of the crowd in the second half. Five Bruins scored in double figures.
Bryce Alford had 14 points, 12 on four three-pointers that helped the Bruins turn a 55-53 lead into a 76-66 advantage.
"We had a heat check on Bryce," Anderson said. "When he knocks it down, we look good on offense.
The Bruins looked good on offense, shooting 57%. They made 11 of 22 three-point shots.
Jordan Adams had 17 points. Travis Wear had 13 points, as well as seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Norman Powell scored 10 points.
But what set Anderson apart was his play in the first half, when the Bruins labored. His nine points and six assists were vital in keeping UCLA from collapse. Colorado led by as many as 12 points before the Bruins closed to within 40-36 at halftime.
"It was about me relaxing tonight," said Anderson, who had only one turnover. "When I do that, I do a lot better job of not turning the ball over."
The last 20 minutes quickly became a bucket-fest for the Bruins, who shot 63% in the second half.
With the victory in hand, UCLA was assured of staying in second place for at least one more day. The Bruins entered the game a half-game ahead of Colorado (18-7, 7-5) and Arizona State and were one game ahead of Stanford and California.
The Bruins haven't given up hopes of catching first-place Arizona — "we're going to need some help," Steve Alford said. But being one of the top four teams in the conference tournament is also high on the agenda.
"We want that first-round bye," Wear said. "That's why this was a big win for us. We're holding down the home court. Now we've got to do it on the road."
The Bruins will get their chance for that, but only after an afternoon game against Utah on Saturday. UCLA plays at California and at Stanford next week with an eye on the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
"In November, you can lose some tough games, and that may or may not affect you, because it's three more months until you get to March," Alford said.
This month is different. The calendar says so.
"If we win in February, we'll have a pretty good seed in Las Vegas," Alford said. "We have been talking about it with the team. Have fun in February. Everybody looks forward to March. It's the tournament. So make sure you take care of February."
The Bruins might want to take care of the first half a little better as well. This was the second consecutive game that they had a flat-line moment during the first 20 minutes.
Part of that was Colorado, which shot 55% in the first half. Part of that was the Bruins.
"We played well for the first six or seven minutes, then fell in love with jump shots," Alford said. "We stopped attacking."
That wasn't a problem in the second half.
"Coach wasn't too happy," Anderson said. "We brought some intensity in the second half."