Bruins Nothing to Shout About

Times Staff Writer

The magic returned to Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night. Fans stood, cheering loudly for kids playing with passion.

Then the second- and third-graders finished their five-minute halftime exhibition, the Bruins returned to the floor and the crowd reverted to its somnolent state.

Apathy had replaced the antipathy expressed during earlier losses.

The 7,710 -- remarkable only because Jerry West was among them -- sat in silence for yawning stretches of UCLA's 75-64 loss to Arizona State, seemingly stunned by the depth of the Bruins' poor play the first 32 minutes.

A late rally fueled by a suffocating full-court press made the last eight minutes interesting. But when Bruin forward Dijon Thompson fouled Curtis Millage on a three-point attempt with 58.3 seconds left and the Bruins down, 70-64, fans began filing out.

After trailing by as many as 21 points, UCLA cut the margin to six on several occasions down the stretch. Arizona State turned the ball over nine times in the last eight minutes and continually missed free throws, but the Bruins couldn't make the big shot to get within one possession of knotting the score.

"When we got that first steal, it was like smelling blood," forward T.J. Cummings said. "It got contagious.

"But earlier, we were contagiously lackadaisical and dug too deep of a hole."

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Coach Steve Lavin went with a strategy that sparked UCLA at times last season, substituting for all five starters five minutes into the game like somebody asking for a new hand in a game of draw poker.

But the second unit had no offensive punch and neither unit effectively slowed the Sun Devils (12-4, 4-1 in the Pacific 10 conference).

The result was another desultory defeat, dropping UCLA to 4-8, 2-2 in the Pac-10 and 2-6 at home.

The direction of the game was obvious early. UCLA trailed at halftime, 40-22, the fewest points by the Bruins in a half this season.

The starting five of Cummings, Jason Kapono, Ryan Walcott, Andre Patterson and Ray Young departed behind, 9-4.

The second five of Thompson, Cedric Bozeman, Josiah Johnson, Jon Crispin and Michael Fey left with the score 19-10.

The starters returned -- with Ryan Hollins replacing Cummings, who had three fouls -- and the deficit grew to 31-15.

The second five finished the half and the entire team dashed to the locker room to a half-hearted shower of boos.

"All year we've been searching for some combination of players that will give us a spark," Lavin said. "In the first half, we had some good combinations out there."

Still, he abandoned the strategy in the second half because a) too many Bruins were in foul trouble and b) it wasn't working.

"We used it in practice and tried to simulate a game, but you can't simulate the intensity of being out there against Arizona State," Cummings said.

The Sun Devils, a rising Pac-10 team with their sights set on a first NCAA tournament berth under Coach Rob Evans, weren't going to let the lead slip away despite having trouble breaking the press and making only 18 of 34 free throws.

"We took the crowd out of it early like you're supposed to do on the road," Millage said.

Millage pillaged UCLA in the first half, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points. And freshman post player Ike Diogu scored 11 of his 16 in the second, taking advantage of the foul trouble of Cummings and Hollins.

Diogu, who is averaging 18 points and seven rebounds, wanted to go to UCLA while growing up in Garland, Texas. But the Bruins showed no interest and the 6-foot-8 center has become a force in Tempe, scoring in double figures in every game this season.

"Their big men got in foul trouble and we pounded it inside," said 6-10 Sun Devil forward Tommy Smith, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. "They got us flustered with the press by face-guarding, but we held on."

Kapono led UCLA with 17 points, all but two in the second half. He missed both of his first-half shots, unable to find a rhythm while playing two five-minute spurts. Overall, he made only three of 10 shots, but converted 11 of 13 free throws.

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