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Afternoon D party for UCLA

Times Staff Writer

The scoreboard highlight play of the game was Kevin Love’s alley-oop pass to Alfred Aboya, perfectly timed so Aboya could make the basket stanchion shiver. It was the moment a sellout Pauley Pavilion crowd of 12,590 let loose with its roar, as fifth-ranked UCLA took an 81-74 Pacific 10 Conference win over fourth-ranked Washington State on Saturday.

The victory, earned with a first half of near-perfect defense, put the Bruins (16-1, 4-0) into sole possession of first place. The Cougars (14-1, 2-1) made eight consecutive three-point baskets in the final 3:05, including seven in a span of 1:21, to make the final score competitive.

But the Bruins led by as many as 18 points, including 42-24 with 16:58 left in the game.

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And more than Love’s lob or his career-high 27 points or the accompanying 14 rebounds that gave the freshman his eighth double-double of the season, or Josh Shipp’s efficient 14 points on nine shots or sore-legged Darren Collison, who played 34 minutes and scored 18 points including eight of nine free throws, it was a defensive play early in the game that made UCLA Coach Ben Howland stand up and participate.

Actually it was a defensive series, a 30-second snippet where UCLA’s relentless pressure worked as well as a moving highway patrol brigade with lights flashing to keep the traffic herded to the side.

Washington State point guard Taylor Rochestie tried four times to dribble around the corner of the baseline and smacked up against Love or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He tried to make a pass into his center, Aron Baynes. He tried to pump-fake and get himself a shot. But Collison was in his chest.

Finally Rochestie lost the ball, a pass that went away. Howland was on the court, low in his own defensive stance, waving his arms, red-faced and excited.

“Our defensive intensity and pressure early in the game really set the tone,” Howland said. “We came out early and played great defensively. We sped them up a little bit, created some turnovers. It was a great performance by our team today.”

The Cougars committed 13 turnovers, nine in the first half when UCLA built a 35-22 lead. They’ve averaged only 10.6 over the season and had led the conference in turnover margin. But they had no advantage on UCLA and they also couldn’t confuse the Bruins with their own defense.

“We could not get stops,” Washington State Coach Tony Bennett said. “They have some special guys that can make plays. They had 12 points off transition and that’s a lot for us.”

With boundless enthusiasm from the crowd and an intense sense of defensive purpose even for a pre-noon tipoff, the Bruins had an 11-1 lead in the first six minutes and were up, 16-4, before Rochestie scored Washington State’s first basket with 11:22 left in the half.

Washington State’s floor leaders, Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low, were a combined two for nine from the field and the Cougars were held to eight-for-21 shooting in the first half.

By the time UCLA had a 26-8 lead after that superb defensive stand forced Washington State’s eighth turnover, Love was chest-bumping Shipp and it seemed this game that was supposed to be a thriller had changed into a rout.

The Bruins shot 30 for 52 (57.7%) for the game against the statistically best defense in the conference. Though the Cougars made a season-high 13 three-pointers and though the final score looked competitive, Weaver stated the obvious. “They were just a big cut above us today,” he said. “They have real good players.”

Collison, who had sat out the final 15 minutes of Thursday’s win over Washington after he suffered a bruised hip, and who had been briefly hospitalized last Sunday with food poisoning, said he was sore, tired and proud. “Every time our intensity is high, we get out on the defensive end,” he said.

Low ended up scoring 24 points in the second half, including six for nine on three-pointers, but four of the three-pointers came in the final three minutes.

Love’s points came earlier, when the game was to be taken, an offensive rebound to make the score 7-0, a hook to make it 9-1, and two three-pointers, including one that gave UCLA a 42-24 lead.

“Kevin, I keep saying this, had his best game of his career today,” Howland said. “I hope he keeps having best games.”

Love said that’s possible. “I’m getting better every day,” he said.

Then he signed autographs for an hour, not tired or hurried and giving a wink when anyone asked about the next game against USC and O.J. Mayo.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Ben vs. Pac-10

UCLA’s record vs. Pac-10 teams since Ben Howland became coach before the 2003-04 season:

Arizona: 5-4

Arizona State: 7-1

California: 7-4

Oregon: 6-2

Oregon State: 7-3

Stanford: 4-5

USC: 5-3

Washington: 5-5

Wash. State: 8-1

Total: 54-28


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