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UCLA’s comeback falls short in 74-63 loss to Washington

The UCLA students frantically hopped in place. From his spot on the Bruins’ bench, Reeves Nelson wildly flapped his arms, triggering even more fervor.

Two days after wiping out a double-digit deficit against Washington State, UCLA appeared on the verge of another colossal comeback Friday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.

Washington’s 17-point lead was down to six with 3 minutes 33 seconds left when Bruins forward Tyler Honeycutt spotted up for a three-pointer.

“It goes in, we’re down three and we’re one possession away,” Honeycutt said.

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But the ball came off the rim, Huskies forward Darnell Gant buried a three-pointer shortly thereafter and Washington came away with a 74-63 victory in a battle of teams that fashion themselves as Pacific 10 Conference title contenders.

Washington looked a bit more the part, displaying the savvy of a veteran team while mostly quieting a season-high crowd of 9,049 that included a sizable contingent of Huskies fans.

Junior guard Isaiah Thomas had 17 points and nine assists, continually feeding Matt Bryan-Amaning passes to fuel the senior forward’s 21-point, 10-rebound effort that helped snap UCLA’s six-game winning streak.

“They’re where they’re at for a reason and they just executed better than us,” said Nelson, who had 19 points, 10 rebounds and one wobbly tooth after taking an Aziz N’Diaye elbow to the mouth early in the game.

UCLA (9-5 overall, 1-1 Pac-10) struggled to make shots from any spot on the floor, shooting 35.3% from the field, 18.2% from beyond the three-point arc and 69.4% from the free-throw line. It was the latter figure that most galled Bruins Coach Ben Howland after his team made only 25 of 36 free throws.

“If you’re going to beat the team picked to win the conference,” Howland said, “you’ve got to make your foul shots.”

The Bruins had other worries as well. Junior guard Lazeric Jones played only 16 minutes after injuring a tendon in the middle finger of his right hand in the first half. Honeycutt and freshman center Joshua Smith played most of the second half in foul trouble, with Smith fouling out for the first time in his fledgling career.

Smith, a native of Kent, Wash., who picked UCLA over Washington, finished with nine points and seven rebounds, though those weren’t the statistics that stood out to him.

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“My first time fouling out, I missed three free throws, I missed a couple of layups,” Smith said. "… I don’t even want to check my phone or my Facebook or anything.”

Two of Smith’s fouls came while hedging screens, prompting Howland to acknowledge afterward that he was rethinking the way he utilizes the big man on defense.

Defense seemed optional for UCLA early in the second half. Bryan-Amaning went in for a fastbreak dunk, Abdul Gaddy drove across the lane for a right-handed bank shot and N’Diaye followed his own miss with a putback to cap a 12-0 run that gave Washington (10-3, 2-0) a 52-35 lead with 14:09 remaining.

That’s when Nelson started asserting himself, scoring 10 points during a push that pulled the Bruins to within 59-55 with 6:18 to go. The deficit was still only six about three minutes later when Honeycutt, who finished with 12 points on four-for-12 shooting, missed a three-pointer.

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Gant then made his three-pointer, and Washington soon was leaving Los Angeles with a sweep of what Bryan-Amaning called “probably the toughest road trip in the conference.”

For the Bruins, it was a harsh loss accompanied by a lesson.

“When you’re playing a good team,” Smith said, “you can’t give them too many opportunities.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com


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