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The fun begins early as No. 1 UCLA rolls

Times Staff Writer

For UCLA, this was nothing but basketball fun Sunday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.

The top-ranked Bruins, 13-0 overall and 2-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference, never trailed against 14th-ranked Washington. Their ferocious defense was relentless. The Huskies (10-3, 0-2) turned the ball over on their first three possessions and never recovered as the Bruins ran off with a 96-74 win in front of 12,042 enthusiastic rooters.

The fun started when forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute stole a Washington pass on the Huskies’ first offensive play and re-warded himself for the theft with a swooping one-handed dunk so quick that his teammate Arron Afflalo blinked and missed it.

And it was fun when center Lorenzo Mata, a 6-foot-9 junior who is not noted for his ball-handling skills, used quick hands to take the ball away from Washington, weave and dribble his way up court and then make a perfect bounce pass to Afflalo, who finished the Mata-led fastbreak.

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Fun, fun, fun. When Michael Roll scored consecutively a layup and two three-pointers. When freshman James Keefe had the confidence to make a 12-footer as Washington tried a zone to subdue UCLA’s exuberance.

And no one had more fun than UCLA’s guards. Afflalo, the junior who criticizes himself more harshly than the most nitpicking fan, tied a career high with 27 points. He had eight assists and five rebounds plus two steals and no turnovers. Sophomore point guard Darren Collison had 15 points, a career-high 12 assists and two turnovers in 33 minutes.

“Our backcourt was spectacular,” Coach Ben Howland said. “Arron and Darren. Twenty assists. That was Arron’s best game of his career as a Bruin.”

Roll added 15 points off the bench and Josh Shipp had 13 even though he missed the final 10 minutes because of cramping.

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“They’re better than last year,” Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They beat us in every possible way.”

After trailing Washington State by as many as 10 points in Thursday’s slow-starting 55-52 win, the Bruins spoke of needing a better beginning.

With their boisterous defense flustering Huskies at the start, the Bruins were leading, 8-0, and the wide-eyed Huskies were catching their breath during a timeout.

“Luc’s dunk right off the bat, and we were running around, it was just fun,” Afflalo said. “I would have enjoyed watching this game.”

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Washington got as close as four points once in the first half and that’s when the Huskies began getting the ball into their star freshman Spencer Hawes (21 points, six rebounds, six turnovers).

With a rotating crew of Mata, Alfred Aboya, Keefe and Ryan Wright leaning on the 7-foot center and trying to double-team him, Hawes made six straight free throws and showed his soft touch from as far as 15 feet. He had 12 points by halftime.

But Washington finished the half with two turnovers, an airball shot by Jon Brockman and a hurried missed three-pointer by Justin Dentmon. The Bruins scored on their last four possessions -- the final basket came with two seconds remaining and was a three-pointer from Afflalo, giving him 20 points in the half -- to send the Bruins off with a 47-33 lead and the crowd into a frenzy.

UCLA scored the first six points of the second half and the only time Washington seemed remotely threatening was after an alley-oop slam by Phil Nelson pulled the Huskies within 11, 66-55, with 10:31 left. The play roused the Bruins, who scored the next 12 points and ensured the final nine minutes were just more fun.

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The first basket of that run was Mata’s steal and assist.

“What a great fundamental play,” Howland said. “That was sweet. That was a ‘No, no, no’ ... great play.”

Said Afflalo: “I was asking for it back early, but Lorenzo was handling it OK so I kept running and Lorenzo remained calm. But we don’t anticipate that happening anymore.”

Afflalo was smiling. So did Mata later. “I haven’t done that since high school,” Mata said. “But I knew I could do it.”

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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UP NEXT FOR UCLA

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Thursday vs. Oregon State at Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore., 7 p.m. -- The Beavers are 0-3 at home against ranked teams. Marcel Jones, a junior forward from Santa Ana Mater Dei High, leads Oregon State in scoring average (15.9) and is second in rebounding (5.9).


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