UCLA basketball fans can get their calendars out now.
NIT first-round games are March 13 and 14 -- Loyola Marymount in a rematch? April 11 will be national letter-of-intent signing day, and Shabazz Muhammad -- considered the best high school player in the nation -- has UCLA as one of his final schools.
California came to the Sports Arena on Saturday and cleared UCLA’s schedule with a 73-63 victory.
“It was disappointing, obviously,” senior guard Jerime Anderson said. “We saw where we could have been and where we are now.”
Where the Bruins are now is 14-11 overall and 7-6 in Pac-12 Conference play after being thoroughly handled by the Bears (20-6, 10-3). UCLA added some cosmetic touches after falling behind, 64-47, with 8:42 left, but Cal players were hardly worried.
“We kept our cool,” forward Robert Thurman said. “We knew we had it under control.”
The victory kept the Bears in first place and California probably has done enough to earn an NCAA at-large bid.
UCLA, on the other hand, will need to win the Pac-12 tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Saturday’s game was another indication how difficult a task that will be for the Bruins.
The Bears were patient and efficient, shooting 51.9% from the field to sweep the Bruins in the regular season for the first time since 1993-94. Justin Cobbs scored 18 points, Allen Crabbe 14 and Jorge Gutierrez 13.
The numbers on the other side were equally telling. UCLA shot 39.7% and had a season-low seven assists, none in the first half.
“We had bunch of open jump shots that we missed,” Coach Ben Howland said. “We had had some inside shots, layups, that we missed. The first half, both their big guys were in foul trouble. They were playing two backups and we couldn’t exploit that.”
Such is the meandering path the Bruins have followed this season. Anderson traced the woes to a poor start and the upheaval surrounding forward Reeves Nelson, who was dismissed from the team in December.
“We have had a lot of adversity,” Anderson said. “We lost arguably our best player early in the year due to issues going on with the team. We didn’t have the start that we would have liked. I think that has affected the rest of the season.
“You see it all the time in games. It’s hard to catch up and come back and get over the hill. I think that’s what we have been trying to do all season. We have been getting closer and closer to that hill.”
Only to tumble back.
The Bears pick-and-rolled the Bruins into submission, extending a five-point lead to 17 during a 10-minute stretch in the second half.
“They come off screens really well,” said Anderson, who had 16 points. “They don’t go through the motion on screens.”
Howland said, “that’s just simple, normal stuff that you would expect that we would be better at by now.”
When Cobbs sank a 15-footer jumper for a 64-47 lead, Howland called time out to “get on” his team, which played without center Anthony Stover (foot). The body language the Bruins displayed on the court was telling ? for the game and the season.
“You never hang your head,” Howland said. “You keep playing. Hopefully that was the lesson learned today.”