Bruins go on attack again

Don’t ask Ben Howland about the way his team lit up the scoreboard.

Don’t ask about the dunks and the fastbreak layups, the three-point shots.

The UCLA coach would rather talk about something else.

“I know it’s boring -- I apologize -- but it’s the truth,” Howland said. “It all starts with our defense.”

Leave it to a defense-first guy to rain on the 17th-ranked Bruins’ scoring parade, a 97-63 victory over Stanford at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

The win followed an equally impressive performance against California on Thursday, two games in which a struggling Bruins team began attacking the basket.


The 97 points Saturday were the most scored by a Howland team in a Pacific 10 Conference game, yet even the players talked about finally understanding the effort their coach wants at the other end of the court.

“To be honest, there’s no magic trick to what we’ve been doing the last two games,” guard Darren Collison said. “We just raised our level of intensity on the defensive end.”

They believe a simple equation -- turnovers equal easy baskets -- has pushed the Bruins (17-4 overall) back into a tie for first in the Pac-10 standings with a record of 7-2.

If nothing else, two big wins has brought life to a team that was licking its wounds after a loss at Washington only a week ago.

“After the Washington game, Coach told us we had to have the best practice we’ve ever had,” center Alfred Aboya said. “That’s what we did. After that, he said we had to keep it up every day.”

Their new ferocity was turned loose on a couple of Bay Area teams that, while inhabiting the middle of the Pac-10 standings, suffered from obvious weaknesses.

Much like turnover-prone Cal on Thursday, Stanford (13-6, 3-6) gave the ball away too often, 19 turnovers translating into 25 points for UCLA.

At the same time, the Bruins continued pressing inside, scoring 42 points in the paint, tied for their season high.

When guard Jrue Holiday bulled down the lane, then kicked the ball to Nikola Dragovic for a three-point basket, UCLA had a 16-3 first-half run and a 13-point lead.

“We got off to a very slow start,” said Coach Johnny Dawkins, who characterized his team’s performance as “the most disappointing game of the season; we just did not play well in any category.”

The score at halftime was 41-30.

With shooters on the roster, it has been tempting for UCLA to live from outside this season. They led the Pac-10 with a 49% field-goal percentage and ranked second in three-point attempts at 38%.

But shots had stopped falling in the Washington loss and in another defeat against Arizona State. Thus the desire for more points in the paint.

There would be no second-half lull Saturday. While Stanford went about five minutes without scoring, UCLA continued to push.

Aboya dominated inside and Holiday finished two fastbreaks. The Bruins scored on back cuts against the Cardinal’s switching defense.

The game was all but over with 12 minutes left as Michael Roll floated an alley-oop pass to Drew Gordon for a dunk that stretched the lead to 71-40.

Stanford never threatened to come back and, at the end, the UCLA lineup consisted mainly of walk-ons and freshman J’mison Morgan, whose five points showed the possibility of things to come.

Collison, Holiday and Aboya led a well-rounded effort, scoring 15 points each, as UCLA won the battle of the boards, 35-27.

Just as important, the Bruins held Stanford forwards Landry Fields and Lawrence Hill, both double-digit scorers, to nine and three points, respectively. The Cardinal shot only 38% from the field.

“Everything that we tried in past games when we weren’t winning or were winning by five, 10 points, we weren’t getting enough stops,” Collison said. “When we get a lot of stops, we get a lot of good things.”