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UCLA Shows Its Grit, 70-62

Times Staff Writer

There was the basket when freshman reserve center Lorenzo Mata, his face turning beet red with effort, won a wrestling contest for an offensive rebound off a Dijon Thompson miss, then laid it in before landing with a loud “thump.” It was an awkward, clumsy and heartwarming collision of desire and effort.

Or there was the nerveless, catch-and-shoot three-pointer from Brian Morrison that gave UCLA a five-point lead with 2 minutes 36 seconds to go when the Bruins seemed ready to succumb to an Oregon surge.

There was the steady free-throw shooting of freshmen guards Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, who combined to go six for six from the line in the final 1:02. All of this helped seal a momentous win Sunday, 70-62 over Oregon in front of 9,087 at McArthur Court. It was the first on the road this season for UCLA, which improved to 7-3 overall and 1-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference.

But all the memorable offensive moments were not what made Bruin Coach Ben Howland enthusiastic.

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It was the defense. “No zone,” Howland said. No zone, only 40 minutes of belly-bumping man-to-man played hard and well by each Bruin.

Farmar, who had been flustered and slow-footed in Friday’s loss to Oregon State when he committed nine turnovers and was continually beaten by quick, penetrating guards, buckled down in his stance, kept his feet moving and stayed in front of Duck point guard Aaron Brooks. Brooks had scored a career-high 34 points against USC last Friday, but had 14 points on four-for-12 shooting Sunday. And six of those came in the last 42 seconds on desperate three-point shots.

Farmar and Morrison took turns staying in front of Brooks, of keeping him from setting the tempo he prefers -- racehorse fast.

“We had to stop their transition,” Farmar said. “To do that I had to stay in front of Brooks, but it was also a whole team effort. We played together and with passion. My goal was to apply ball pressure and keep Brooks in front of me.”

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Farmar, besides keeping Brooks in check and keying a defense that held the Ducks (9-2, 1-1) to their lowest point total of the season, was one of five Bruins in double figures with 12 points. He also had only one first-half turnover. Morrison, a senior, led the way with 15 points on five-for-six three-point shooting, and senior Dijon Thompson and junior center Michael Fey each had 13 points.

Thompson understood the significance of the win, how important it was to return home with a 1-1 Pac-10 record instead of starting out 0-2 for the first time since the 1987-88 season.

“It’s a big difference,” said Thompson, who also had a team-high seven rebounds and four assists. “I can only imagine how bad the road trip home would have been if we would have lost. It’s my first win in Eugene.”

It was almost easy. With 12:10 left, Afflalo twisted around a defender for a fastbreak layup that put the Bruins up, 49-34, and brought a deadening silence to the gym so that you could hear Howland scream “Defense!” as his team came back toward him.

What followed, though, was Oregon playing basketball its way -- fast and full court. During an 18-5 run that drew the Ducks within two points, 54-52, with 5:51 left, they scored on five layups and a couple of running bank shots.

Thompson stopped the Oregon momentum by driving past 7-foot Ian Crosswhite and drawing a foul. The senior made his free throws but then lost Crosswhite on defense and let the Australian forward free for a layup.

Morrison, though, came back with his quick-release three-pointer and after Oregon freshman Maarty Leunen missed two free throws, the Bruins showed more grit.

Oregon Coach Ernie Kent didn’t give UCLA much credit.

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“I felt this had nothing to do with their defense,” Kent said, “as much as it had to do with our mental approach.

“We were out of our rhythm and made a lot of careless turnovers.”

But Afflalo disagreed. “On defense it was all of us together,” he said. “We played as a team with a lot of passion and then, when it got close, we stayed calm and patient.”


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