Joint effort for Bruins
The pace was to Brigham Young’s liking. Lots of long possessions, the sound of squeaky sneakers on the court moving, and then silence when another Cougar would make a three-point shot or an open layup.
Until Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would put back an offensive rebound. Or be the lead on a fastbreak and get the basket. Mbah a Moute was everywhere and he had to be. The UCLA sophomore forward scored a career-high 24 points to lead the No. 6 Bruins to an 82-69 victory over the Cougars at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night.
About a quarter of the seats were empty even though the Bruins were coming off a national championship game appearance and there was a time in the second half when the opposition fans were dominating with “BYU, BYU” cheers. Until Mbah a Moute got the ball.
The loudest noise came with about two minutes left and the Cougars still close. Mbah a Moute blocked a jump shot by BYU guard Rashaun Broadus and flicked a perfect outlet pass to Darren Collison, who made the easy basket and put the Bruins ahead, 72-63.
Mbah a Moute also had 11 rebounds and three steals, and Collison had 16 points and 10 assists in his new role as starting point guard in place of Jordan Farmar, a Lakers rookie who was at Pauley doing halftime television interviews.
“He did a great job,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said of Mbah a Moute. “He was always around the basketball, had a lot of deflections and I played him a lot of minutes.”
Junior guard Arron Afflalo gave credit to Mbah a Moute and Collison for saving the Bruins. “They both played great tonight,” said Afflalo, who had nine points and four assists. “They both played complete floor games. Luc incorporated what he did last year and showed me some new things. Darren protected the ball and got 10 assists. That’s what you want from your point guard.”
Mbah a Moute had been hiding in exhibition games, staying in the background as teammates Josh Shipp and Afflalo did most of the scoring.
Shipp and Afflalo seemed beset by nerves Wednesday or maybe the defenders who would not leave their faces.
At the start the Bruins took a 10-2 lead and most of their energy came from junior center Lorenzo Mata, a surprise starter after he missed all but three preseason practices because of a knee injury.
It was a deceptive advantage because the Cougars fumbled the ball away on four possessions, turnovers created by nerves more than UCLA defense. BYU quickly knocked the casual off UCLA with a 12-2 run that put the Cougars ahead, 14-12.
That lead grew to as much as nine, 29-20, and in one stretch the Cougars made seven straight three-pointers, including two from senior Austin Ainge, son of former BYU star and NBA player Danny Ainge.
At halftime the Cougars were eight of nine from three-point range (88.9) and 14 of 21 overall (66.7%) and the Bruins hung close only because Mbah a Moute was relentless inside and had 11 points. But Collison had to make a running layup with 6.9 seconds left in the half to keep the Bruins within three, 39-36.
BYU Coach Dave Rose said that UCLA’s pressure disrupted the Cougars in the second half. “And they turned our turnovers into points,” Rose said.
Said Howland of the Cougars: “If there’s a better shooting team in the country, I’d like to see them.”
The Bruins had a 10-2 run to take the lead for good and Mbah a Moute had five of those points. The Cougars were still within a point, 59-58, with 8:48 left, but Shipp made two foul shots and a three-pointer to start UCLA to a final push.
“That was a hard-fought win over a very good team,” Howland said.