Jahvid Best's asthma was acting up, and he couldn't find space to move against a UCLA defense that had been nearly as stifling as the Rose Bowl's 100-degree heat.
Then the California tailback took a deep breath and took off on a 93-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. With a bunch of big plays just like that, the bus-riding Golden Bears got back on the road to success -- and to Berkeley.
Best also caught a 51-yard scoring pass, and Kevin Riley threw two of his three touchdown passes to Marvin Jones during a dynamic first half in Cal's skid-stopping 45-26 victory over UCLA on Saturday.
Shane Vereen rushed for 154 yards and a score, and Riley passed for 205 yards without an interception for the Bears (4-2, 1-2 Pac-10), who had been embarrassed before last week's bye in back-to-back losses to Oregon (42-3) and Southern California (30-3), all but ending their Pac-10 title hopes.
"Thank God we had the bye week and got everything squared away," said Best, who managed just 102 yards rushing on 18 attempts. "We're a lot tighter as a team now. We're more of a family. In the locker room now, there's music going, and everybody is happy. It's great."
Long freeway trips sometimes have that effect on a family. Instead of flying to Pasadena, the Bears took buses from Berkeley on Thursday to save an estimated $100,000 for the troubled UC school system, of which UCLA also is a member.
"We had some meeting time on the bus," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who also watched two movies with his players. "Everybody was loose and relaxed. ... The only way we could get away from the last two weeks was to get some space."
The extra travel time clearly didn't bother the Bears, who went up 35-20 by halftime with a dizzying series of scoring plays. Best was late coming out for the second half because of what he thinks was dehydration, but his two big plays were enough when both teams struggled after halftime.
Tedford, who grew up in nearby Downey, Calif., won in the Los Angeles area for the first time in his eight seasons in charge of the Bears. Cal had gone 0-7 during his tenure at the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum -- a big deal for Vereen, Jones and the other Bears who grew up down here.
While Cal got back in form despite playing the second half without top defensive back Syd'Quan Thompson, who had an undisclosed injury, UCLA (3-3, 0-3) lost its third straight.
Johnathan Franklin had a 74-yard TD run among his 101 yards rushing and two scores for the Bruins. Kevin Prince passed for 311 yards but threw a terrible interception in the final minutes for UCLA, which has lost to Stanford, Oregon and Cal in the past three weeks, endangering coach Rick Neuheisel's hopes for a winning record in his second season.
"That was the first time that our defense looked like they were being exposed," Neuheisel said. "These are difficult times, and in difficult times, the key is for everybody to know that there is a plan. The plan will begin in earnest (Sunday)."
Cal's highlight-reel first half was led by Best, who uncorked the longest TD run of his three seasons with the Bears on a circuitous run through the UCLA defense late in the second quarter. Cutting back behind his blocking near Cal's goal line and sweetly slipping two tackles, he picked up a downfield block from Riley and rolled to the end zone for the third-longest scoring run in school history.
"They overpursued on the outside," Best said with a shrug. "I was able to cut back and then just find my way."
Although Best's Heisman Trophy chances dwindled with his 102 total yards rushing in Cal's two losses, the defending Pac-10 rushing champion has 11 touchdowns already this season.
Neither team did much in the second half, with the Bears managing just 117 total yards, but Cal's Mychael Kendricks killed UCLA's faint comeback hopes when he returned an interception 68 yards for a score with 5:05 left. Prince had the Bruins moving, but the freshman missed wide-open tight end Logan Paulsen with a flat pass that Kendricks easily snagged.
"I wanted to make sure I didn't miss him, and as a result, I aimed it too much," said Prince, 21 of 41 while getting sacked three times. "We haven't held up our end of the deal at all (on offense). You can't expect our defense to save us all of the time."
Vereen made a 42-yard TD run on Cal's opening drive, and Riley hit Jones for a 43-yard score several minutes later. Cal went ahead 21-7 early in the second quarter on Best's TD catch, but Franklin kept it close with his 74-yard TD run just 18 seconds later, the Bruins' longest scoring run in six years.
Kai Forbath kicked four field goals for the Bruins.