USC is often kidded about its soft nonconference schedule, but look who showed up on UCLA's doorstep Tuesday night.
It was Cal State Northridge, which was expected to be flattened by the 12th-ranked Bruins but instead threw a scare into a crowd of 5,638 at Pauley Pavilion before faltering in the final 3 1/2 minutes and losing, 80-73.
Following West Coast Conference doormats Santa Clara and San Diego into Westwood, the independent Matadors were outshot, 53.6% to 50.8%, and outrebounded, 42-22, while falling to 2-6, but they led at halftime and midway through the second half and were tied, 67-67, after guard James Morris made a three-point shot with 3:44 to play.
UCLA's Ed O'Bannon then drove down the left baseline for a reverse dunk, sparking a game-closing 13-6 run by the Bruins.
UCLA improved to 7-1, but the visitors felt pretty good.
"We felt like we could compete with these guys," said reserve guard Ryan Martin, who led Northridge with a career-high 18 points.
"We were up for it and I think we met the challenge. We played very hard. I think our effort was the reason we persevered."
Had the Bruins underestimated the Matadors?
"I don't think they necessarily were up for playing Duke, or something like that," Martin said. "But I think that, after the first half, they came out in the second half feeling like we were Duke."
Still, they couldn't shake Northridge until the end.
"They stayed with us," said Tyus Edney, who led UCLA with 16 points and five steals. "That surprised me a lot."
With a starting lineup that included only two starters taller than 6 feet, Northridge was outmanned, but the Matadors weren't outworked.
Bad things started happening for UCLA eight minutes into the game, when swingman Mitchell Butler re-sprained his left wrist while crashing to the floor after making a layup over Andre Chevalier.
Northridge, which had trailed by 11 points, took the lead with 1:21 to play in the first half when forward Chris Yard, who scored 13 points, chased down an air ball by Chevalier and scored on a layup.
Butler returned with 54 seconds left in the half, but he couldn't prevent Northridge from taking a 38-37 lead into the intermission.
UCLA didn't start the second half much better, its first five possessions resulting in three missed shots and two turnovers.
Northridge led, 56-52, with 10 minutes to play before Edney made a steal and drove for a layup, starting a 9-0 run that gave the Bruins a 61-56 lead with 7:44 remaining.
Northridge pulled even at 67-67 on a three-point shot by James Morris, but the Bruins took control thereafter.
UCLA's Mitchell Butler, who first sprained his left wrist last month, will have it X-rayed today. He played 17 minutes, scoring five points. . . . Northridge made eight of 20 three-point shots, UCLA only one of six. . . . UCLA's schedule next season will include nonconference games at Pauley Pavilion against Cal State Long Beach, Loyola Marymount, Louisiana State and Louisville. The Bruins will also play at Notre Dame and Houston, and against North Carolina State at the Charlotte Coliseum, which will play host to the Final Four in 1994. . . . UCLA's Steve Elkind, a walk-on who had played only two minutes, has quit the team. . . . A dunk by Northridge center Peter Micelli with 4:15 to play was the first of the season by the undersized Matadors.