They were two short sequences, two moments in a game featuring hundreds. They involved two UCLA reserves who combined to barely play 10 minutes.
And they said everything about how the Bruins, once widely dismissed as unworthy of the four letters, continued to unite while prompting a loud “U-C-L-A!” chant from their fans inside Maples Pavilion as part of more late-season magic.
With celebrated big man Adem Bona on the bench in foul trouble late in a taut game against Stanford on Wednesday night, backups Aday Mara and Kenneth Nwuba took their star turns during the Bruins’ 82-74 victory.
Mara, a freshman who had made just 52.9% of his free throws, stepped to the line with four minutes left and confidently made two.
Nwuba, a sixth-year senior whose primary feature is his massive size, used a quick hand to poke away the ball from Stanford’s Maxime Raynaud for a steal with a tick under two minutes to play and the Bruins holding a five-point lead.
Bona took it from there, powering in for a layup that helped UCLA pull away for its fourth consecutive victory and sixth in its last seven games.
“I’m loving it,” Bona said of the contributions from his teammates. “Can’t have just one guy on the team playing. Need everyone.”
Collectively, the Bruins provided an emphatic answer to coach Mick Cronin’s question about how this young team would handle its recent success.
Quite well, it turns out.
After defeating Oregon over the weekend, UCLA continued its revenge tour after Stanford beat the Bruins last month at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins (12-11 overall, 7-5 Pac-12) also moved ahead of the Cardinal (11-11, 6-6) and into fourth place in the Pac-12, which is important considering the top four teams receive a bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Of course, the Bruins harbor much higher ambitions than that.
Cronin had likened his players’ recent prosperity to a street fight, saying they learned to scratch and claw their way to victory.
Nwuba symbolized that grit with the steal that earned him hand slaps, chest bumps and a postgame hug from former UCLA center Myles Johnson, who watched the game from behind the team bench.
“Kenny was really alert and aware on that play,” Cronin said. “He not only deflected it, he recovered it as well.”
Freshman guard Sebastian Mack made four of seven three-pointers and finished with 21 points for the Bruins, who made a season-high 11 three-pointers on 25 attempts thanks to their inside-out approach generating open looks. Bona added 16 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 49 seconds left.
Raynaud scored a team-high 20 points for Stanford, which lost despite shooting 52.8% because it did not convert its usual barrage of three-pointers.
Earlier this week, Cronin said the best way to counteract Stanford’s three-pointers — the Cardinal entered the game making a conference-best 9.5 per game while shooting 39.1% — was to not let any be taken.
UCLA was largely successful on that front, with Stanford making just four of 17 (23.5%) from long range.
“You’ve got to find them early,” Cronin said of the Cardinal’s shooters. “They run in transition and we got lucky — we lost them a few times and they missed. But they spread you out, they’ve just got so many shooters.”
There was concern with eight minutes left when Bona sustained a left hand injury that forced him out of the game after he gutted his way through making two free throws.
Bona was able to return a minute later, but Cronin might have wished he hadn’t because he quickly committed a foul 94 feet from the basket that gave Stanford two free throws. It was Bona’s fourth foul, sending him to the bench in favor of Mara and later Nwuba, two backup centers who came up big.
“We need everybody to be successful,” said UCLA guard Will McClendon, who did his part by making three of six three-pointers on the way to 13 points. “So today it was Kenny and Aday and they were both ready and we were proud. We needed both of those plays.”