Bruins zone out in loss

There was no hiding the truth, not by early in the second half.

Not with UCLA grasping at air on defense.

Not with the Bruins surrendering one easy basket after another on fastbreaks and uncontested dunks.

Pure athleticism -- or lack thereof -- made the difference in their surprisingly lopsided 79-68 loss to Long Beach State at the 76 Classic on Sunday afternoon.

The 49ers, a blur in bright yellow uniforms, could sense the disparity.

“They were slow,” forward T.J. Robinson said. “We knew we could beat them down the court.”

And with UCLA suffering a third loss in four days at the Anaheim Convention Center, Coach Ben Howland uttered words that some people around Westwood never thought they would hear.

“We may have to play some zone,” said the coach who built his program on scrappy, man-to-man defense. “We’re definitely going to have to play softer and pack it in because we’re getting beat.”

It was a historic day for other reasons.

Long Beach State earned its first victory over UCLA in a dozen tries dating to 1970. The Bruins, who previously fell to Cal State Fullerton, had never lost to two Big West Conference teams in the same season.

“We know that UCLA is in a rebuilding year,” Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson said. “But we also know it’s UCLA.”

For the first minutes of Sunday’s game, reputation sufficed as UCLA built a seven-point lead over a jittery Long Beach State.

But the 49ers (4-3) began spreading the floor and listening to Monson, who waved his arms from the sideline, exhorting them to “Go!” every time they grabbed a rebound.

Robinson, on his way to a game-high 25 points, sparked a run by attacking the basket, helping his team to a one-point lead at halftime.

Then came the decisive minutes of the second half as guard Casper Ware scored nine straight points -- he finished with 11 -- and the gap widened.

“We really had a hard time with Casper Ware,” Howland said. “He really beat us off the bounce.”

In a season headed south, UCLA has slipped to 2-4 with unexpected losses becoming the norm. Players once ranked among the nation’s top recruits are getting out-played and the statistics tell a woeful tale.

Guard Michael Roll led his team with 23 points and freshman Reeves Nelson gave another encouraging performance, making all five of his shots, but they had little company.

Nikola Dragovic struggled, making two of 10, and center Drew Gordon got into early foul trouble and was parked on the bench for long stretches.

The Bruins attempted 20 three-point shots, making only three, and were outrebounded, 39-30. With all the resulting lay-ups, Long Beach State shot 54% and held a decisive edge in the paint.

Now UCLA has a week to prepare for top-ranked Kansas on Sunday. That may not be long enough for players left dazed by a last-place finish in this holiday tournament.

“We just need to go out there and practice our hardest,” Roll said. “And listen to what Coach has to say.”

Even if it means playing zone defense.