LOS ANGELES — UCLA seems to know only two ways to win these days — blowouts or squeakers. Five of the top-seeded Bruins' last eight wins have been by three points or less, another came after they forced overtime and two were double-digit routs.
They might want to find another way, with tougher teams looming on their path to a third consecutive Final Four.
Winners of 12 consecutive games, the Bruins (33-3) play 12th-seeded Western Kentucky (29-6) on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals in Phoenix.
"We are skating on thin ice, but we're winning these games," point guard Darren Collison said Tuesday. "We don't want to continue to have these bad starts, we want to strive for having good starts."
After trailing most of the way, UCLA survived a tight second-round game for the third consecutive year, edging Texas A&M 51-49 Saturday when Josh Shipp blocked Donald Sloan's shot in the lane in the closing seconds.
A newspaper photo the next day showed Shipp's left hand on Sloan's right wrist, but no foul was called.
"Doesn't matter now, the game's over, we're moving on," a smiling Shipp said.
Initially, freshman Kevin Love was given credit for the block. He thought Shipp made a clean block, then he saw the photo.
"I saw the hand on the wrist and that's tough to say, but hey, it was the ref's call and luckily the NCAA can't look back on that," he said, referring to UCLA's last basket that was taken away the next day, which changed the final score.
Another call that went the Bruins' way came when they clinched the Pac-10 regular-season title over Stanford. They forced overtime when Lawrence Hill was called for a foul while blocking a last-second shot by Collison.
Love sensed something special was going on when Russell Westbrook stepped to the foul line in that game.
"Russell's free throw hit the back of the rim, bounced up in the air, bobbled a couple of times and I was like, 'Russ, this is destiny here, you're going to knock this next one down and we're going to win the game,' " he recalled. "Hey, that ended up happening, and that was kind of a surreal moment for me."
Recent Internet and television chatter says a spate of calls have unfairly gone UCLA's way.
"They keep saying it's a conspiracy and everybody hates UCLA now, but we're not feeding into that too much," Love said. "We still came back, we still had to hit our shots."
Shipp doesn't see the Bruins benefiting from any special karma.
"Everything we got, we've earned," he said. "Those last-second shots, we've earned those. The calls, they're close. People miss calls; our calls get magnified at the end."