Whatever the record is for empty seats at a college basketball game, UCLA and Texas may have smashed it Saturday.
The two high-profile programs agreed during the offseason to play at 43,000-seat Reliant Stadium when the Bruins were supposed to be a top 15 team and the Longhorns were expected to be a Big 12 contender. Since both teams have failed to meet expectations so far this season and both basketball fan bases are notoriously fickle, an announced crowd of only 2,797 people attended UCLA's 65-63 victory — and reporters on hand insist that figure may have been generous.
The sparse crowd at a neutral court in Houston was no surprise considering neither team had given their fans much incentive to travel. Both teams entered the game with three losses, some of which were especially ugly.
UCLA blew an 18-point second-half lead at home against Cal Poly SLO earlier this year and subsequently had two players transfer. Texas lost to Division II Chaminade and struggling USC in Maui last month and was coming off a 41-point performance in a loss to Georgetown earlier this week.
That's why, as embarrassing as the empty seats may have been, UCLA will gladly take the victory, especially considering it looked as though the Bruins were destined for another ugly loss when they fell behind by eight with 3:02 to play. They clamped down on defense, forced a string of missed shots and turnovers and stole a game that will at least temporarily cool the flames underneath Ben Howland's hot seat.
Texas, which is still without starting point guard Myck Kabongo, will be kicking itself for letting this slip away. In addition to the careless play down the stretch, the Longhorns blew three wide-open layups, any one of which might have helped them extend their lead.
All in all, the game was proof that not all close games are good games. UCLA made enough mistakes to lose on Saturday. Texas just tried a little harder.
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