Bruins recover from early scare
The thought occurred to more than one player on the UCLA basketball team.
Oh no. Not again.
The Bruins had fallen behind early to a Stanford team that was draining one jump shot after another, dredging up memories of last week’s upset loss to Washington State.
This time would be different.
A calmer and somewhat wiser UCLA team buckled down on defense and got some big-time offense from senior Josh Shipp, slipping past the Cardinal, 76-71, at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night.
“You’re telling me that the team we just beat is the ninth-best team in this conference?” a visibly relieved and excited Coach Ben Howland said.
With a victory, the Bruins (21-7, 10-5) were guaranteed of gaining ground in the Pacific 10 Conference standings because the two teams ahead of them -- Washington and Arizona State -- played in Seattle with Washington winning.
Stanford, meanwhile, put up a surprising fight before losing for the eighth time in 10 games.
“They hit 10 of their first 11 shots,” center Alfred Aboya said. “We were like, ‘Ooh, what’s going on here?’ ”
When these teams met at Pauley Pavilion in late January, UCLA was in the midst of a four-game home winning streak. The defensive intensity was turned up and the offense was firing on all cylinders as the Bruins raced to a 97-63 victory.
This time around, the circumstances were very different.
The Bruins limped into Northern California having lost three of their last four games, a stretch that made it clear they lacked the defensive quickness of previous teams. Howland lamented the inconsistency and missed assignments that had left too many opposing shooters wide open.
The opening minutes Thursday provided a painful reminder of all that.
No one on UCLA could keep track of Stanford guard Anthony Goods. Or center Josh Owens. Or forward Landry Fields.
As the Cardinal shot almost perfectly, the Bruins went more than eight minutes without a rebound, falling behind by 14 points at 24-10.
All of which made it more improbable when they scratched their way back into the game.
Shipp led the way, working the glass and attacking the basket, getting started on a game-high 24 points to go with seven rebounds, helping his team cut the deficit to 38-37 at halftime.
“Josh Shipp really stepped up when they were down,” Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins said.
“He took it upon himself to make some plays that gave them momentum at the end of the first half.”
The Bruins continued to play well into the second half, building a lead, before finding a new kind of trouble.
On a team that has never really been in foul trouble this season, Aboya, forward Nikola Dragovic and guard Jrue Holiday soon committed their third and fourth fouls, an especially worrisome development given the status of key reserve James Keefe.
Hours before the game, Keefe twisted his back during a shoot-around. The junior forward, who started earlier in the season and has averaged about 15 minutes a game, received treatment through the afternoon but informed the team’s trainer before tipoff that he felt no better.
So the Bruins needed a few more minutes from freshman Drew Gordon and even stuck Dragovic at center for a while. They also needed an act of faith by Howland.
Stanford (15-11, 4-11) wasn’t going away, not with Goods scoring 18 points and Fields adding 16, so the UCLA coach stuck Aboya back in the game with eight minutes remaining.
The senior from Cameroon made it look like a good decision.
Down the stretch, he scored on a tip and added four free throws. Shipp and Holiday chipped in with clutch points.
“Get some wins,” Aboya said. “Get your confidence back.”
Consider it a lesson learned from past struggles.
“If we have a letdown,” guard Darren Collison said, “teams are good enough in the Pac-10 to actually beat us.”