Bruins’ bad sign: No stopping

Two minutes.

That’s how long it took for Darren Collison to realize that his team was in trouble.

“We made a lot of defensive mistakes in the first two minutes,” the UCLA guard said. “And it just carried over.”

Those first minutes set the tone for the Bruins’ upset loss to Washington State at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, an 82-81 defeat that put a damper on what had been a feel-good week.

Just days after an important victory over Washington, the 20th-ranked Bruins struggled in an area that is supposed to be their strength.

“The way we’ve been successful here the past three or four years is by playing good defense,” Coach Ben Howland said. “Our defense really, really was not good today.”


There was also an emotional component to what happened.

“At times we play with no sense of urgency,” center Alfred Aboya said. “That kills us.”

Starting the weekend tied for second in the Pacific 10, UCLA (20-7, 9-5) could ill afford to drop a game it was expected to win. Washington State, meanwhile, improved to 14-13, 6-9, by winning for only the second time in 53 tries against the Bruins in Los Angeles.

“If you ask me if we could beat UCLA when they score 81,” Washington State Coach Tony Bennett said, “I would say we would not.”

With their patient brand of offense, the Cougars had not scored this much in regulation of a Pac-10 game since 2004. They shot 59% and outdid their season average by more than 20 points, led by guard Taylor Rochestie’s career-high 33.

“I was just surprised that, at the end of the game, there were 82 points up there,” Rochestie said.

For the Bruins, at least some of the challenge on Saturday was mental.

They had practiced especially hard this week, stung by a pair of losses in Arizona, and had fought for that physical victory over Pac-10 leader Washington on Thursday night.

Asked if his team was due for a letdown, Howland had said: “We just can’t allow that. Our guys know that.”

Someone neglected to forward the memo to Washington State.

Working off screens, Rochestie and backcourt mate Klay Thompson made jump shot after jump shot with center Aron Baynes adding inside offense during the first 20 minutes.

According to Howland, at least some of those points resulted from his players failing to trail shooters and attacking double-teams from poor angles, allowing the ballhandler to kick the ball to open teammates.

“I don’t know why we were making mistakes,” Collison said.

Yet, with Washington State leading by eight through the first 12 minutes, the Bruins responded.

The defense picked up, making stops and creating turnovers that led to fast-break points, Aboya and forward Nikola Dragovic leading the way. After Collison drove to the basket, the score was 42-42 at halftime.

UCLA continued to play hard into the early minutes of the second half, but Washington State would not go away and -- slowly but surely -- the Bruins’ effort dissipated.

During a critical stretch with about 10 minutes remaining, UCLA stalled on offense as the Cougars worked their way back, shooting the ball far more accurately than they had done all season.

Rochestie’s three-pointer with 2:16 remaining gave his team another eight-point lead.

There was still room for a frantic finish, UCLA pressing full-court. But the Bruins missed a couple of crucial scoring chances and every time a ball went out of bounds, it seemed to go to Washington State. The boos that cascaded down from the stands made it clear that fans were unhappy with some of the late officiating. The players knew this game had been lost well before swingman Josh Shipp had a last-second, three-point heave blocked by Thompson.

UCLA ranks near the bottom of the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage defense and is on track for its worst numbers in that category in more than a decade.

On Saturday, this shortcoming outweighed Dragovic’s career-high 23 points and 20 more from Collison.

“We need defense,” Howland said. “Defense is going to be a priority here.”