Say what you will about UCLA Coach Steve Lavin, but don’t call him a sourpuss. He is perpetually upbeat, even when his team is circling the drain.
So when Lavin tore into his players at a team shoot-around Friday, the outburst raised more than a few eyebrows.
“Even though he seems like a nice guy and a positive guy, everyone has a point where they snap,” forward Jason Kapono said. “We weren’t practicing well, we were tired from the travel and stuff, so everyone was kind of lazy yesterday. And Coach jumped us.”
A day later, UCLA jumped Purdue, 87-82.
Fueled by the outside shooting of Kapono and dominating play in the paint by center Dan Gadzuric, the Bruins pulled off their most impressive victory of the season Saturday before a crowd of 13,253 at Mackey Arena.
UCLA (5-4) sorely needed a boost heading into its Pacific 10 Conference schedule, which begins Thursday against Washington at Pauley Pavilion. Having already absorbed losses to Kansas, Cal State Northridge, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, the Bruins couldn’t afford to drop another nonconference game.
But they almost did. They built a 16-point lead in the second half, then nearly frittered it away. Purdue (8-3), which had won 53 of 56 games at home, trimmed the deficit to 82-80 with 1:52 to play.
Neither team scored for the next 1:32, although both had good chances. And, in the final 20 seconds, the Bruins pulled away by sinking five of eight free throws.
“We knew Purdue was going to make a run at us,” said Lavin, a former assistant under Boilermaker Coach Gene Keady. “I worked for the man [Keady] for three years, and I know about his halftime talks.”
For once, the Bruins didn’t have to discuss much at halftime. They got off to a strong start, traded baskets with Purdue for the first 10 minutes, then tore off a 27-6 run to take a 17-point lead.
That flurry started with four unanswered dunks in a row--two by Matt Barnes, then two by Gadzuric. That quieted things in Purdue’s concrete arena, where those fans who didn’t make a Rose Bowl pilgrimage braved a foot of snow and bone-chilling cold to cheer their team.
Things got even more quiet in the first part of the second half, when the game devolved into a Gadzuric dunkfest. He threw down four more double-fisted jams. It helped that 6-foot-10 Purdue center John Allison, his team’s only true big man, got in foul trouble and played only 11 minutes in the second half.
Gadzuric, who has been bothered by a sore right hand since the Dec. 9 game against Hawaii, didn’t wince a bit when he was brutalizing the rim. He held a bag of ice to his hand after the game but said he’s feeling much better.
“During the game, it wasn’t a problem at all,” he said. “I’m not concerned about it.”
One of the reasons Gadzuric found himself wide open so frequently was Purdue opted to apply airtight pressure to UCLA’s perimeter players. That left open plenty of opportunities for backdoor cuts and the like.
Gadzuric took full advantage of that, scoring 18 points on eight-of-eight shooting and pulling down 10 rebounds. He looked nothing like the player who was manhandled and muscled out of position by North Carolina a week earlier.
“In the past three or four games, Dan had been floating outside, taking 15-footers and crazy shots like that,” Kapono said. “Now, he was just posting up strong inside where he was getting dunks, power layups, stuff like that.”
The Bruins left the outside shooting to Kapono, who finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He made a point to feed the ball into the post, as did Earl Watson (seven assists), Ray Young (three) and Barnes (four).
It was the first loss of the month for the Boilermakers, who were 7-0 in December, thanks in part to a steady diet of cream-puff opponents such as Santa Clara, Florida International and Akron.
Purdue forward Rodney Smith made nine of 13 shots to finish with a game-high 27 points. Maynard Lewis scored 14, and Willie Deane and Allison added 10 each.
“We’re learning,” Keady said. “We’re trying to get the right pieces of the puzzle in the right places.”
For a game, at least, the Bruins had the pieces in place and didn’t look puzzled at all.