Chris Smith backpedaled slowly, clapping furiously as he went.
His three-pointer had helped drag UCLA out of what had been a nine-point deficit only minutes earlier, giving the Bruins all the momentum against No. 18 Colorado during what would become a burst of 14 consecutive UCLA points.
Bruins coach Mick Cronin marched onto the court clapping going into a timeout shortly thereafter, slapping hands with Cody Riley after the sophomore forward had dived onto the court amid a scrum to force a jump ball.
Ultimately, there was more celebrating to come during UCLA’s 70-63 victory at the CU Events Center that gave the Bruins their fifth consecutive triumph as part of a late-season surge.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. made a three-pointer to give the Bruins (17-11 overall, 10-5 Pac-12 Conference) a 66-60 lead with a minute left before Colorado’s McKinley Wright IV countered with his own three-pointer with 46 seconds left. Riley got a mismatch on Wright down low and made a layup to extend the Bruins’ advantage to 68-63.
Colorado missed a shot and fouled Smith, who made two free throws. After another Buffaloes miss, Smith hurled the ball into the air in celebration before a stunned sellout crowd of 11,214, the fifth-biggest in the history of the building.
Riley finished with 16 points, Tyger Campbell added 15 and Smith had 14 for the Bruins, who swept the season series against the Buffaloes (21-7, 10-5).
Colorado coach Tad Boyle took a microphone and apologized to fans after the game because the Buffaloes were not able to send out their seniors in winning fashion.
Colorado hosted its senior-day festivities before the game, honoring guard Shane Gatling and forward Lucas Siewart, but there wasn’t much for the home crowd to cheer in the minutes that followed as UCLA made five of its first seven shots while building a five-point lead.
Chris Smith on UCLA winning five straight and nine out of 11: “The feeling is indescribable.”
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) February 22, 2020
But the first half was a tale of two halves, with the Bruins’ hot start offset by a cold spell in which they made only one of 10 shots and went scoreless for more than four minutes. Some of the misses were more regrettable than others, including a Riley layup and a Jaquez dunk off an alley-oop pass from Campbell in transition that bounced high off the side of the rim.
Riley appeared exhausted late in the first half, his nearly 11 minutes of playing time off the bench compounded by the conditions. He may have noticed the Buffaloes dispensed their usual pregame altitude warning, noting on the video scoreboard that the arena rested a mile above sea level.
Colorado controlled the momentum when a Wright reverse layup gave the Buffaloes a seven-point lead, but Jake Kyman came off the bench to make back-to-back three-pointers and make his team’s resulting 29-26 halftime deficit manageable.
The Bruins were just getting started.