The restlessness stretched deep into the night.
Missing shots, failing to box out and exerting little energy on defense, UCLA looked outmanned against an opponent given a 1% chance to win by the metrics of basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy.
By halftime, with the Bruins trailing Lafayette by three points, a few boos filled a half-empty Pauley Pavilion that served as a fitting backdrop for a halfhearted effort.
UCLA’s 26-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation, was officially in jeopardy early in the second half when the Bruins fell behind by nine points against a team that had lost its season opener to St. Joseph’s by 21.
Finally, the energy level rose, matched by the decibels, during a massive defensive-fueled run that carried the Bruins to a 68-50 victory. The home winning streak, now at 27 games, lived on for at least another few days thanks to a second half that largely offset that earlier listless showing.
UCLA’s 24-2 surge that started five minutes into the second half soothed antsy fans worried about their team suffering the worst defeat of the Mick Cronin era.
Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews’ jumper with three minutes left capped the Bruins’ run lasting more than 13 minutes, giving his team a 58-45 lead. Andrews finished with a career-high 18 points, making seven of nine shots, to go with four assists and only one turnover.
UCLA freshman guard Sebastian Mack, who started the second half, proved worthy of the reprieve after losing his spot in the starting lineup to Will McClendon. Mack’s career-high 18 points, which came largely on the strength of nine free throws after he repeatedly drew fouls driving into the paint, accompanied scrappy defense that helped spark the Bruins’ comeback.
UCLA (2-0) held Lafayette (0-2) to 24% shooting while outscoring the Leopards 38-17 in the second half. Bruins junior guard Lazar Stefanovic added 11 points, four rebounds and four steals in another strong across-the-board showing.
There were also some less encouraging developments.
Only four days after his career-high scoring output in the Bruins’ season opener, Adem Bona was a nonfactor. Yanked only 71 seconds into the game after committing an offensive foul, the sophomore center later irritated Cronin so badly that the coach could be heard yelling, “Adem, get over here!” from high above the other side of the arena.
Bona finished with six points on one-for-seven shooting along with six rebounds in 26 minutes.
In the end, the Bruins could exhale. They won on a night when it seemed they might not.