UCLA, with hopes of winning a championship in a very difficult conference, won't even win the championship in a weak holiday tournament. The Bruins can't even claim supremacy over a team that has already lost to Pepperdine and one Pacific 10-foe-in-waiting, Arizona State. That much has come into focus.
Trying to get UCLA to play with focus is another matter. Again showing the inability to play with sustained intensity, and still drifting between the appearance of impressive and uninspired, the Bruins came back from a 10-point deficit with three minutes left Wednesday night, only to lose to unranked Colorado State, 55-54, before 250 people at the Cannon Activities Center in the semifinals of the Pearl Harbor Classic.
"It hurts pretty bad," guard Ryan Bailey said. "You never want to lose, but especially after coming all this way. It hurts real bad."
Twenty-five hundred miles west and a giant step back. What awaits the Bruins (5-2) is a third-place game today--against the loser of the San Jose State-South Florida matchup that ended after this edition went to press--a certain drop from their No. 18 ranking and more questions about the character it takes to make a serious NCAA tournament run.
One was unavoidable in the wake of John Ford's free throw with 23 seconds remaining that broke a 54-54 tie and provided the winning margin for Colorado State.
Where does this roller-coaster end?
From the loss against Gonzaga with a poor second half, to the impressive showing versus DePaul to the bad first half and good second half against the Rams, until Jason Kapono's three-point shot from the left baseline for the win with two seconds remaining bounced off the rim. Sprained necks have become an acceptable injury.
"Putting together two halves of sustained effort and execution on both ends of the court," Coach Steve Lavin said of the obvious issue confronting his team. "That's still the missing link."
It didn't take a 20-point first half, the Bruins' lowest output of the season for an opening 20 minutes, to raise questions about their ability to deal with an opponent that plays with patience. Those doubts were already there, for their program and their specific team.
Princeton '96 was the greatest exposure, but it's not like these Bruins were saddled with that issue. They had earned their own issues in 1999, all of three games prior to taking the court against Colorado State. Gonzaga 59, UCLA 43.
The Rams arrived just 5-3--with losses to St. Bonaventure, Pepperdine and Arizona State--but also problematic for the Bruins because of style of play. Just in case there was any doubt about that, Colorado State didn't take a shot on two of its first four possessions until the 35-second clock was down to less than five.
It was part of the Bruins' challenge, being forced to deal with a methodical style again along with talented forward Ceedric Goodwyn, who finished with a game-high 18 points. So on the heels of scoring 83 points in the first-round victory over Maine and 76 versus DePaul last Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, they managed all of 20 points on Colorado State.
Colorado State hit six of 10 three-pointers in the first half and 11 of 22 shots overall, good for a nine-point lead. The Bruins were at 37.5% and, despite an inside presence with Dan Gadzuric and Jerome Moiso in the opening lineup for the third consecutive game, did not get to the line once.
UCLA had not started this poorly all season. It at least was up on Gonzaga by five points at the break, before the frustration of playing a team that lived in the halfcourt led to rushed Bruin shots at the other end and a 17-point second half.
There were not as many bad shots this time, or at least more than normal for the undisciplined style of the Bruins. But there was also no flow to the offense, with only four assists in the first half and a stretch of 6:59 without a point.
They were still down eight with 13 1/2 minutes remaining, before coming to life.
Scores on three consecutive possessions, including a dunk for Gadzuric off an out-of-bounds lob by Kapono and a layin by Gadzuric following an offensive rebound, cut the deficit to 36-34.
There's a lot of caterwauling going on in Kentucky over Wildcats' slow start, Chris Dufresne says. Page 5
North Carolina State, ranked No. 25, lost its first game of the season, a 73-62 setback to Tulane. Page 5
LONG BEACH SIZZLES
The 49ers made their first 31 shots of second half in defeating Cal State Monterey Bay, 127-57. Page 6