UCLA uses quick start to get even
Three weeks could not dull the sting.
Three weeks had gone by and still UCLA players talked about losing at home to Washington State, a stumble that cost them a share of the Pacific 10 Conference title.
“We owe them,” forward Nikola Dragovic said.
Consider the bill settled.
Given a shot at redemption, the 15th-ranked Bruins made good on the opportunity by defeating Washington State, 64-53, in a quarterfinal game of the Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center on Thursday night.
The victory sets up a crosstown rivalry in one semifinal tonight, the Bruins facing a USC team they swept in the regular season.
Local basketball fans get a hometown matchup thanks to a UCLA performance that was energetic if not always pretty.
“When our intensity is at a high level,” guard Darren Collison said, “it’s going to be hard to beat us.”
The effort translated mainly into defense, but first came a burst of scoring from a Bruins team that ranks No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage.
Through the early minutes, swingman Josh Shipp made two from long range and Dragovic scored twice in the paint. Freshman Drew Gordon’s tap stretched the lead to 20 points.
The shots eventually stopped falling so consistently -- the gap closed to 33-21 at halftime -- but UCLA had something else to fall back on.
The last time these teams played -- in February at Pauley Pavilion -- the Bruins came out sloppy on defense, failing to trail Washington State’s shooters and attacking double-teams from bad angles.
The Cougars made them pay.
A team known for its patient brand of play -- envision a hoops version of the ball-control offense in football -- Washington State scored an 82-81 upset.
Guard Taylor Rochestie, with a career-best 33, recalled looking up at those big numbers on the scoreboard with downright shock.
This time around, UCLA had far greater success pestering Rochestie and his teammates.
Washington State center Aron Baynes had a big night with a game-high 22 points, but the Cougars made only 30% of their shots as a team.
Rochestie went one for 11 on his way to eight points. The Bruins were just as effective in slowing down freshman guard Klay Thompson, who had raced to 15 points last time, largely at the expense of UCLA freshman Jrue Holiday.
“He got the best of me,” Holiday said earlier this week, adding that he and his teammates “have to play more intense defense.”
That’s exactly what they did Thursday, Holiday scrambling after Thompson, who was limited to five points.
Not that Washington State went away meekly.
With UCLA cooling down considerably in the second half, the Cougars mounted a couple of runs. But every time they showed signs of drawing too close, the Bruins answered.
Collison had 15 points. Dragovic had 12 with Holiday and Shipp adding 10 each.
It was Holiday, temporarily benched in the February game because of his defensive problems, who effectively put this game away with about 10 minutes left, his three-pointer good for a 47-30 lead too big to overcome.
“I just thought Jrue Holiday’s sense of urgency was so great tonight,” Coach Ben Howland said.
Call it revenge.