Bruins cruise past Oregon State
No one had told James Keefe the whole story, so it took a few moments for the UCLA forward to grasp the ramifications.
When the Bruins played at Oregon State on Friday night, they were facing a team coached by Craig Robinson, who also happens to be President-elect Barack Obama’s brother-in-law.
“So we don’t have the U.S. rooting for us?” Keefe asked.
At least not 53% of the United States. And hardly anyone inside Oregon State’s aging Gill Coliseum.
In a game that was decided long before the polls closed, the 12th-ranked Bruins defeated Oregon State in a landslide, 69-46, to win their Pacific 10 Conference opener.
“That’s what is supposed to happen,” guard Jrue Holiday said. “We came out and took care of business early.”
The loss marked a less-than-celebratory -- though fully expected -- conference debut for Robinson, otherwise known as Michelle Obama’s big brother. He was happy with his team’s effort as the underdog but added: “I’m not a moral victory guy. I want to win the game.”
This matchup hinged on UCLA’s ability to decipher Oregon State’s various zone defenses.
The Bruins, 11-2 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-10, moved the ball well, finding Holiday, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp open for three-pointers in the early minutes.
From there, they got the transition game going off steals and missed shots.
At the other end of the floor, Oregon State (5-6, 0-1) simply did not have the firepower to generate consistent scoring. With the Bruins on their way to shooting 37% from long range and forcing 20 turnovers on the night, the lead was 37-16 by halftime.
“We pretty much picked apart the weaknesses in the zone,” forward Drew Gordon said. “You’ve got to flash middle, make sure the backside’s open, the skip pass is always open too.”
Friday’s game served as a milestone for Gordon and the rest of UCLA’s much-heralded freshman class, who had heard about Pac-10 play from some of the veterans on the team.
Guard Malcolm Lee remained on the bench because of a knee injury but several of his classmates got plenty of floor time.
Gordon’s 11 points included a couple of soft tip-ins. Holiday made three of his first five shots and finished with nine points and three rebounds. Jerime Anderson played 10 quality minutes behind Collison.
“The biggest thing is our chemistry is good,” Collison said.
“Nobody cares who gets the most points. We just want to keep winning.”
The future isn’t looking quite so bright for Oregon State, at least not yet.
The program has pinned its hopes on Robinson, who played for Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril at Princeton. The same Princeton that upset UCLA in the 1996 NCAA tournament.
Carril preached a distinctive style with lots of movement, passing and back-door cuts, arguably a means to keep the score close against more-talented opponents. Before the season, Robinson promised to bring some of that to Corvallis, but with a twist.
“People think we’re going to be scoring in the 40s,” he said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
In fact, Oregon State was averaging better than 60 points. But strategy goes only so far with a team that went 0-18 in Pac-10 play last season.
“There’s the culture of losing that we have to change,” Robinson said. “And that’s going to be a big job.”
A bigger job than Oregon State could manage against UCLA.
The Beavers started the second half with an 8-2 run, bringing some life to a modest holiday crowd of 5,629. Guard Calvin Haynes scored a team-high 16 points, but Oregon State never really got close.
UCLA swingman Michael Roll had another sharp night, shooting 85% and tying Collison for the team high with 16 points. Center Alfred Aboya had seven rebounds.
“They’re as good as advertised,” Robinson said.
Or, as a sign in the stands suggested, “The President Hates UCLA.”