Steve East, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The red-hot University of Central Arkansas Bears put a huge scare into the No. 18 UCLA Bruins on Wednesday night before falling 106-101 in overtime at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bears made a school-record 18 three-pointers, including one from the right corner by senior guard Jordan Howard that sent the game to overtime. Howard finished with 35 points, tying his career-high with eight three-pointers. Junior guard Thatch Unruh tied his career high with 20 points, connecting on four of six from three-point range.
Senior forward Mathieu Kamba had 15 points and seven rebounds, while 7-foot freshman center Hayden Koval had a career-high 15 points, including four three-pointers, and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
“The thing that pleases me the most right now is, my guys are in there in the locker room like they just lost the national championship game,’ said UCA head coach Russ Pennell, who saw his Bears stay with the Top 25 Bruins throughout the game, despite falling behind by 17 points early on UCLA’s home court. “And the thing that makes me happy about that is instead of saying we took this team to overtime, they are feeling like we let one get away. But I was very happy with our effort. I was really happy with the way we competed.’
After trailing 34-17 at the 8:15 mark of the first half, the Bears mounted a furious comeback, including a 17-4 stretch _ with eight consecutive points from Unruh _ to get back in the game. Back-to-back three-pointers by Howard and freshman guard DeAndre Jones put the Bears ahead of the Bruins 44-43 with just under a minute to play in the first half. UCA outscored UCLA 28-13 in the final 7:45 of the half to go to the locker room trailing just 47-45.
UCA shot 51.5 percent from the field in the first half, aided by an 8-for-13 performance from three-point range. Howard was 3 of 6, while Unruh was 2 of 2 and Koval was 2 for 3, including UCA’s first two baskets of the game.
The Bruins (2-0), 27-point favorites, could never shake the Bears in the second half, despite taking a six-point lead with 6:30 left to play. The Bears tied the game at 72-72, and again at 75-75 with 2:25 left in regulation. Consecutive three-pointers from Koval and Unruh kept UCA within 84-83 heading into the final two minutes. UCLA scored nine of its final 11 points of regulation at the free-throw line. One of two from Aaron Holiday gave the Bruins an 85-83 lead with 20.6 seconds left. Howard then drove the lane for the Bears but was fouled on the floor.
Jones found Howard in the right corner on the inbounds pass and he nailed the three to put the Bears up 86-85 with 5.9 seconds left. But UCLA freshman Jaylen Hands got behind the UCA defense and was fouled and made the second free throw to tie it with 1.3 seconds left to send it to overtime.
The Bruins made 9 of 10 at the line in overtime but UCA answered every time with a three-pointer. Howard opened the extra period with a three before UCLA reeled off nine straight points for a 95-90 advantage. Unruh made a pair of free throws and then a three to keep the Bears within 97-95 with 1:30 to play. Howard then nailed back-to-back three-pointers but UCLA made nine straight free throws to hold on for the win.
UCA shot 48.1 percent from the field and 51.4 percent (18 of 35) from three-point range. The difference was at the foul line where the Bruins were 20 of 32 and UCA was 7 of 13.
“I think the biggest thing was how we executed,’ said Pennell. “We were calling sets and we were executing them to perfection. And that actually shows me where we’ve really improved in the fall. That was one of the areas I really wanted to be better at this year. When we need a bucket, we can get one. And I really thought tonight we were outstanding.’
No one more than Howard, who was 8 of 15 from beyond the arc, one short of tying the school record for threes in a game. Koval finished 4 of 8 on three-pointers and Unruh was 4 of 6. UCA, outrebounded badly in the early going, closed that gap to 51-42 for the game. The 18 three-pointers tied a Pauley Pavilion record, while the 35 attempts was an arena record. Howard’s eight threes tied for the most ever by a UCLA opponent.
“I was really happy with the way Hayden responded tonight, especially against a guy like (Thomas) Welch, because he’s and NBA player,’ said Pennell. “I thought Hayden stood toe to toe. He is such a threat on the outside. If you set a ball screen for Jordan, you have to honor Hayden or he’ll hit those shots.
“And Jordan is one of the better guards in the country, and not just at our level, I mean anywhere. I get a lot of compliments on him from other coaches. They had a McDonald’s All-American out there trying to check him. So far this year, he’s just been on fire. And the thing that I’m the proudest of with him is his leadership. I think everything he’s gotten as far as accolades, he’s deserving.’
UCA returns home to host Alcorn State at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Farris Center.