KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Aaron Holiday spent most of the game trying to get his teammates involved, even forcing a couple of passes when UCLA coach Steve Alford reckoned he should have taken the shot.
Well, he took one when it meant the most.
The Bruins’ sparkplug guard got a scooping layup to drop just before the final buzzer Tuesday night, capping an impressive one-man show down the stretch and giving No. 23 UCLA a 72-70 victory over Wisconsin in the third-place game of the Hall of Fame Classic.
“The first half I didn’t play how I should have. I let my teammates down, I felt like,” said Holiday, who finished with 18 points and five assists without a turnover. “In the second half I came out to be aggressive, make the right plays and that’s what I did.”
The Bruins (4-1) trailed 65-59 with about 4 minutes left, but Holiday knocked down two 3-pointers and converted two free throws to spur the comeback. Wisconsin tied it 70-all when Khalil Iverson made the second of two foul shots with 31.5 seconds left, but that was enough time for UCLA.
Holiday got the ball at the top of the key, briefly lost control, then roared down the right side of the lane past Badgers star Ethan Happ and scooped up the winning basket.
“Most guards would panic, pull up and take a tough shot,” Alford said. “I actually saw him look at the clock and he knew he had time to get to the rim. He just made a tremendous play.”
Happ had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead Wisconsin (2-3), which has lost three straight games, all to ranked teams. Iverson, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison had 14 points apiece.
Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman scored 11 each for UCLA. Prince Ali and Jaylen Hands had 10 apiece.
“We can’t turn the ball over three of our last eight possessions, and score five points,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said. “You can’t close out games with that statistic down the stretch.
“Part of that is maturity. Part of that is having guys who haven’t been in that position.”
The consolation match between perennial Big Ten and Pac-12 powers boiled down to a game of runs.
Wisconsin embarked on the first one late in the first half, running its methodical offense against the Bruins’ man-to-man defense and building a 38-26 lead. UCLA countered with the next one, a 14-2 charge spanning the break that drew the game even, then pushed the run to 26-6 to seize control.
The biggest change for the Bruins was in their guard play. Welsh and Goloman had kept them in the game in the first half, but Holiday and Co. began to stretch the defense in the second.
Things changed again midway through the half, when the plucky Davison — making his first start — knocked down a 3-pointer. By the time he buried another one a few minutes later, the Badgers had ripped off a 16-2 run that turned a 55-46 deficit into a 62-57 lead with 7:35 left.
“We kept battling back. We were able to regain the lead,” Gard said. “Then it becomes possession-for-possession down the stretch and we didn’t do a good enough job.”
STREAKS AND STATS
Wisconsin had never played three straight ranked non-conference opponents in the regular season. … The Bruins won despite committing 19 turnovers, which Wisconsin turned into 21 points. … UCLA G Kris Wilkes, who had 15 points in the semifinals, scored four before fouling out.
Wisconsin has played a brutal stretch against Xavier, Baylor and the Bruins, and it’s been a sharp learning curve for a rebuilt roster. But Davison showed in Kansas City that he can contribute in a big way as a freshman, and that’s reason for the Badgers to be optimistic.
UCLA has reason to love Kansas City, where it won the first of its 11 national titles and won the Hall of Fame Classic a decade ago. But a poor performance against Creighton in the semifinals raised some questions about the Bruins’ toughness, and to some extent they answered them Tuesday night.
Wisconsin heads home to face Milwaukee on Friday night.
UCLA begins a four-game home stand Sunday against Cal-Irvine.
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)