Same old, same old, for the longest stretch. Then, suddenly, poles apart.
There was UCLA, getting dazzled once again by the intelligence and passion of an unheralded, underdog opponent at Pauley Pavilion.
But this time, in Coach Ben Howland’s debut, the Bruins did not go meekly under a shower of boos. They made adjustments on both ends of the floor, clawed back and delivered enough clutch plays to pull out a 68-67 victory over Vermont in front of 7,852 on Saturday.
Spoilsports will point out that referee Bill Kennedy turned a blind eye to a fairly obvious foul on a frantic last-second shot by Vermont guard T.J. Sorrentine and took an earful of abuse from losing Coach Tom Brennan on his way off the court.
Brennan refused to discuss the play with reporters, but he surely will comment on his popular Vermont radio show this week. Then just as surely, the uproar will dissipate into oblivion. So too will the outstanding 38-point performance of Catamount forward Taylor Coppenrath.
What will endure is the “W,” a victorious ushering in of the Howland era despite a roster seriously depleted from attrition, academics and injury.
“Maybe in the [the players’] minds they were saying, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Howland said. “But they showed toughness. That’s what I’ll remember about this game.”
For a half, to say the Bruins were tantamount to Catamounts would be an insult to Vermont (0-3). Yet as the momentum turned, several Bruin players, like their coach, were left with memories of personal achievement.
Center Michael Fey, branded as soft last season, played with ferocity, scoring a career-high 20 points. All but two came in the second half when UCLA whittled an 11-point deficit, and he was particularly belligerent on the offensive boards, putting back several misses.
Guard Brian Morrison, who sat out last season under transfer rules, made three three-point baskets in the second half, including a 22-footer with 48 seconds to play that gave UCLA a 67-64 lead. Seconds earlier, Morrison took a charge on a drive by Coppenrath.
Point guard Cedric Bozeman assisted that basket by driving aggressively, forcing two Vermont defenders to collapse on him and passing to Morrison in rhythm. Bozeman played 37 minutes on a tender ankle and had a career-high nine assists to go with 12 points.
Post player Ryan Hollins made a free throw for the deciding point with 4.8 seconds left, moments after Coppenrath made a three-pointer to tie the score. Hollins played the entire second half -- most of it at forward for the first time -- as he and Fey slowed Coppenrath for a stretch by double-teaming him.
Forward Dijon Thompson scored 18 points, 12 in the first half when he was the only Bruin shooting effectively. He also had nine rebounds and logged 37 minutes -- a workload he must become accustomed to because forward Trevor Ariza is out at least two weeks because of a breathing disorder and forward T.J. Cummings is ineligible for at least two more games.
Worried about foul trouble with the thin bench, Howland changed his defense from a man-to-man to a zone midway through the first half. Vermont starting making shots from the perimeter, UCLA was hurrying shots and missing, and the game appeared to be slipping away when Coppenrath made a three-pointer with one second left in the half for a 34-23 lead.
The crowd booed the Bruins off the floor, but Howland bit his lip and relayed a positive message in the locker room.
“Coach Howland was calm,” Thompson said. “He told us to be patient and not take quick shots.”
Less patient was the crowd, large for a nonconference game against a nondescript opponent and clearly wanting results after last season’s 10-19 debacle that led to the firing of Steve Lavin.
The boos turned to an awkward silence early in the second half -- even the large student section that Athletic Director Dan Guerrero moved closer to the floor this season was strangely quiet, as if contemplating the oddity of the UVM nickname not standing for University of Vermont, but for Universitas Viridis Montis, Latin for University of the Green Mountains.
Not until Bruin reserve guard Janou Rubin made a three-point shot to trim Vermont’s lead to 41-35 did the crowd come to life. A steal by Bozeman led to a layup by Thompson seconds later, a nine-point run tied the score, and the fans were with their team the rest of the way.
“I’m proud we never quit,” Howland said. “We never gave up. We never stopped believing we were going to win.”