UCLA opens Pac-12 play with a win over Oregon State

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If you want something, you have to go get it.

Struggling to find any semblance of offense Thursday night, UCLA kept grabbing offensive rebounds that allowed it to put points on the board.

Pairing those second chances with strong defense, the Bruins were finally able to feel better about themselves after running away with a 69-62 victory over Oregon State at Gill Coliseum in their Pac-12 Conference opener.

Using a 17-2 run midway through the second half, UCLA (6-6 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) logged its first victory of the season over a major conference opponent while snapping a four-game losing streak.

Adem Bona tallied 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks to lead five Bruins in double figures scoring. Dylan Andrews added 13 points and Lazar Stefanovic, Brandon Wiliams and Will McClendon each added 10 to help the Bruins win for the first time in nearly a month.

Two offensive rebounds from McClendon and one each from Bona and Stefanovic led to 11 points in the second half. The Bruins also got a boost from freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel, who forced a turnover and followed a layup with a corner three-pointer that gave UCLA a 45-40 lead.

A Buyuktuncel outlet pass to McClendon for a layup gave the Bruins a 54-40 advantage, their biggest of the game.

Dexter Akanno led Oregon State (8-4, 0-1) with 22 points on an inefficient six-for-15 shooting.

The Bruins arrived here facing an existential and a real-world basketball crisis. They didn’t have a clear leader. They couldn’t generate easy baskets. They committed dumb fouls. They folded in the final minutes of close games. They couldn’t shoot from long range, their 29.4% accuracy on three-pointers putting them on pace for the worst figure in school history.

UCLA guard Ilane Fibleuil defends against Oregon State guard Dexter Akanno in the first half Thursday.

(Mark Ylen / Associated Press)

Oregon State figured to be a tasty tonic for UCLA’s ills. Though they had won more than twice as many games as they lost, the Beavers had not beaten a major college team and needed two overtimes to edge Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at home. Their offense was far more disjointed than the Bruins’ and their defense was middling.

If UCLA was going to rebound from the abysmal nonconference portion of its schedule, when it lost to Cal State Northridge at home and needed a late Andrews jumper to beat UC Riverside, it needed to start piling up Pac-12 wins Thursday.

What kind of conference record would the Bruins need to make the NCAA tournament? Would 15-5 do? That would be the number needed to get UCLA to 20 victories before the Pac-12 tournament, likely putting it on the bubble.

March seemed a long way off when a new starting lineup failed to shake the Bruins out of their funk. UCLA coach Mick Cronin paired Buyuktuncel with Bona and guards Sebastian Mack, Andrews and Stefanovic, but Buyuktuncel committed a quick foul and came out less than 2½ minutes into the game.

Bona’s offensive struggles continued, particularly against double teams, after he panicked and threw a pass out of bounds for one of his three turnovers in the first half. Bona also missed six of his first nine shots, including an easy putback and a short jump hook.

But the Bruins found a desperately needed source of offense late in the first half when Williams followed a short jumper with a step-back three-pointer, helping UCLA shave what had been a nine-point deficit to 28-24 at halftime.

After so much anguish, it was the start of what would be a big sigh of relief for the Bruins.

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