Collison made all seven of his free throws and coolly shook off 0-for-4 shooting in the first half as the Bruins (21-2, 9-1 Pac-10) stayed one game ahead of Stanford atop the Pac-10. UCLA, which has appeared in two consecutive Final Fours, remained on its best start since the 1994-95 team went 32-1. That team won the NCAA title.
Kyle Weaver scored 13 points and Aron Baynes added 11 despite foul trouble for the Cougars (17-5, 5-5).
After the teams were deadlocked at 26 at halftime, they stayed within four of each other inside until midway through the second half. Then Washington State’s big men, Robbie Cowgill and Baynes, got in foul trouble with nine minutes left.
That’s when the Bruins began a Love-fest.
Instead of skip passes that had been going away from the big freshman earlier, Love received a steady feed of entry passes. He converted four consecutive free throws to give UCLA a 50-45 lead with 6:09 left, while getting fourth fouls on Cowgill and Baynes.
Russell Westbrook, who had badly missed his first two jump shots of the second half after a 4-for-7 opening half, scored on a breakaway layup off a steal with 5:49 left. Then Cowgill fouled out with 5:18 remaining trying to get a rebound after another UCLA steal. Love then scored on a putback of his own miss on a fourth-chance offensive rebound to give the Bruins a 54-45 lead with 4 1/2 minutes to go.
Baynes answered with his own 3-point play on a foul by Love and then dunked past the phenom on a great pass from Weaver to bring the Cougars to within 59-54 and the home crowd into its loudest roar of the night.
Westbrook, who finished with 14 points, answered with a slashing layup. And when Daven Harmeling leaned into Alfred Aboya beyond the 3-point arc hoping for a foul, UCLA’s forward simply stepped away to leave Harmeling to flail an errant 3 with less than a minute left. That proved to be Washington State’s last, best chance.
Love just missed getting his seventh consecutive double-double and wasn’t as relentless as he was while scoring a career-high 27 points with 14 rebounds in UCLA’s 81-74 victory over WSU in Los Angeles last month.
The Bruins forged the halftime tie despite committing 10 turnovers — eight on steals by the Cougars — and largely ignoring the prime position Love kept gaining in the low blocks. The 6-foot-11, 271-pound brute continually shoved away Cowgill, who is an inch shorter and 60 pounds lighter. Yet Love took just five shots in the first half, making four. And he took only three shots after halftime.