Senior guards Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones denied any bad blood with Stanford, which means the Bruins 72-61 Pac-12 victory on Thursday night over the visiting Cardinal at the Los Angeles Sports Arena showed the level of toughness the Bruins will need to finish the rest of the season on an upswing.
UCLA (14-10, 7-5) took over sole possession of sixth place in the conference while Stanford (16-8, 6-6) lost for the fifth time in its past six games. And the Bruins accomplished their 10th consecutive home victory by showing some real grit and determination.
"Lot of poise tonight," said Anderson, who finished with 12 points, six assists and three turnovers. "We grew from this game. They hit us with a lot of punches and we hit them back. Teams are not going to fold - ever. We need to take those hits and keep rolling and keep playing."
Anderson and Jones continued to thrive together as the pair helped UCLA pick up a season-high 15 steals. Jones finished with a game-high 21 points and six steals.
"We were upset we got that loss up there (at Stanford)," Jones said. "These two games (Stanford and Saturday's game against first-place California), we feel like they're in reach for us."
Coach Ben Howland called UCLA a "much improved team from when we played (Stanford) in late December," and said he was "proud of our poise.
"We held on and fought."
The Bruins had to overcome foul trouble for sophomore center Josh Smith, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. Howland touted the defensive play of Anthony Stover, who had four rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes. Travis Wear, who missed the win at Washington State with a sprained ankle, came off the bench and added 13 points, five rebounds and three blocks. UCLA finished with 11 blocks.
"Yesterday was my first full day of practice so I didn't really transition (back into playing mode) at all," Wear said. "It's swollen but the pain is not that bad. It's definitely affecting my lift. There's just so much tape, it's like a cast on my leg and limiting my mobility a little bit."
Chasson Randle scored 16 points to lead Stanford but he also led his team with five of its 22 turnovers.
One of Stanford's turnovers set off what might be UCLA's play of the season. Anderson tipped the ball away from Stanford and Jones raced toward the sideline to grab the loose ball. Beating a Stanford player and avoiding going out of bounds, he threw a brilliant behind-the-back pass ahead to Anderson, who finished it off with a pleasing dunk to the roar of the excited UCLA crowd.
"That whole play happened because of Jerime," Jones said. "He tapped the ball loose and he was working so hard so you've got to reward him for it. I don't think I've ever made that pass before."
UCLA fans hope it's not his last of the season either.