PULLMAN, Wash. -- Thuds don’t come much louder than this.
UCLA spent weeks restoring its image, climbing back to the top of the Pac-12 Conference, getting back into the rankings. One rainy night in Pullman put a dent in that.
Washington State’s 73-61 victory in a near-empty Beasley Coliseum was so surgically thorough that UCLA Coach Ben Howland spent nearly a half-hour sorting things out before meeting with the media.
“Whether it was not being able to handle success, I was sitting there trying to figure it out after the game,” Howland said.
His conclusion: “Obviously I didn’t have our guys fearful enough of losing this game,” Howland said. “We didn’t come out with the emotion and intensity, the sense of urgency, that we need to have.”
How much it hurts the No. 23 Bruins (22-8 overall, 12-5 in conference play) is to be determined.
The Bruins, instead of being alone in first place, are half a game behind Oregon. They also lost forward Travis Wear, who reinjured his right foot.
That the game was held in private might help. There were so few actual fans in an announced crowd of 4,268 that storming the court after ending a 19-game home losing streak to the Bruins was impossible. The ratio of fans to security guards was too low.
The game was also on the Pac-12 Networks, guaranteeing a low viewing audience.
But there will be damage to how UCLA is perceived.
“I think so,” freshman guard Jordan Adams said. “I don’t know what goes into all that, but I know losing to Washington State is not a good thing.”
Losing to a short-handed Washington State team only makes it worse. The Cougars (12-18, 3-14) were without starting guards Mike Ladd, who is injured, and DaVonte Lacy, their third-leading scorer, who also was out with a knee injury.
“I’m so happy for our guys, for our kids,” Coach Ken Bone said. “This is huge. We have been scrutinized so much. This will be a confidence boost heading into the Pac-12 tournament.”
Words Howland would certainly have preferred to use. Instead, he was left explaining his team’s woeful start. “We’re not dominant enough to just show up,” Howland said. “We’ve got to show up ready to roll. That’s my responsibility.”
The Bruins showed up on time, but their focus appeared to have been left on Highway 195, somewhere between Spokane and Pullman
UCLA had four points 10 minutes into the game. Buoyed by a 25-4 lead, the Cougars proceeded to work out frustrations right down to the final seconds. Their last three baskets were dunks.
With Ladd and Lacy out, it almost seemed as if Bone was pulling guys off intramural teams and throwing them in the game.
D.J. Shelton came in averaging six points. He had 13 points and six rebounds. Will DiLorio was averaging five points. He had eight points and seven rebounds.
There were double-doubles by Brock Motum (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Dexter Kernich-Drew (11 points, 11 rebounds).
Washington State had a 46-23 rebound edge.
“That says a whole lot right there,” Howland said. “That’s a horrible state.”
UCLA cut the deficit to 37-31 with 17 minutes left. Washington State had three offensive rebounds on its next possession, the last ending in a layup by Shelton.
The Bruins also seemed baffled by the Cougars’ zone and resorted to flinging three-point attempts. Of their 57 shots, 29 were three-pointers. UCLA shot 38% from the field.
“It’s tough,” Adams said. “We have to wait for Oregon to lose. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to keep everything in our hands.”