Bruins speed right through ‘trap’ game
The UCLA players knew what was at stake.
They were feeling a little beat up after their loss at Texas last week. They were still thinking about how close they came to winning that game.
But they also understood the ramifications of losing at home against Cal State Northridge.
“These are the type of games you have to mentally prepare for,” guard Darren Collison said. “If we’d lost this game, it would have been all over our resume.”
The 12th-ranked Bruins avoided any major embarrassments at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday night, playing sloppily at times but ultimately cruising to an 85-67 victory.
“I was worried about this game,” Coach Ben Howland said. “I was worried about Cal State Northridge.”
Not so worried that he didn’t tinker with his lineup for much of the night, giving his freshmen players a good share of the minutes.
Forward Drew Gordon, in particular, had the best night of his young career with nine points and five rebounds.
But it was the veterans who took care of business, Collison and Josh Shipp scoring in double figures and delivering six assists each. Forward James Keefe and center Alfred Aboya each added nine points.
The Bruins (5-2) also had 13 steals.
“We played against one of the top defensive teams in the country and we turned the ball over way too many times,” Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell said.
The 68-64 loss to No. 8 Texas last week had shown that UCLA still has a ways to go in coming together as a team. There were mistakes on defense and the offense looked sluggish at crucial moments.
Against Northridge, the Bruins spent a portion of the first half taking ill-advised shots, making bad passes and committing 13 turnovers.
But then came a few sharp minutes as Collison penetrated twice against the Matadors’ aggressive zone, dishing the ball for baskets by Keefe and Michael Roll.
Freshman Jrue Holiday, who looked a little wild but had six steals, followed with an alley-oop assist to Nikola Dragovic.
Crisper play translated into a 22-point lead until Howland went to his less-experienced lineup and the advantage slipped to 41-27 at halftime.
“I like that we showed heart,” Braswell said. “We didn’t give up.”
The Matadors were 20-10 last season but lost four seniors from that team and had spent the early season providing fodder to larger programs such as Stanford and New Mexico.
Sunday night’s game also marked the end of what amounted to a three-week road trip.
Starting in mid-November, Northridge traveled more than 4,000 miles, playing in cities from Bakersfield to Philadelphia before taking the 15-mile bus ride south to UCLA.
Pauley Pavilion ranks as a historic locale for the Matadors, a place where they scored the biggest victory in their program’s history, upsetting UCLA, 78-74, on Nov. 21, 2000.
That wasn’t going to happen again Sunday.
UCLA came out hot at the start of the second half as Collison sank a floater, then followed a minute later with a pair of three-point jump shots.
Holiday quickly got into the act with a three-pointer and a pair of free throws off a steal as the Bruins opened a 23-point lead.
Again, Howland turned to a younger lineup in the final minutes and Northridge closed the gap. Tremaine Townsend, who scored a game-high 23 points, made a string of baskets that led to a statistic that a defensive-minded coach such as Howland could not have liked.
The Matadors (1-6) shot 60% from the field in the second half to increase their overall percentage to 47%.
Still, given the hangover of the Texas game, things could have been worse.
And the Bruins knew that.
“We didn’t want to overlook them,” Collison said. “I thought we did a good job of staying focused . . . and took care of the win.”
UCLA up next
aturday vs. DePaul, 4 p.m., Honda Center, Channel 9 -- The Bruins take a short trip to Anaheim for the Wooden Classic, where they will face a Blue Demons team that fell to 4-2 after losing to Northwestern on Saturday night.
-- David Wharton