UCLA is no match for No. 9 Gonzaga, loses, 87-74

Bruins forward Kevon Looney dishes an assist to teammate Isaac Hamilton against Gonzaga on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Once again, everything had gone as expected.

No. 9 Gonzaga had led the entire game Saturday, and UCLA looked overpowered on their Pauley Pavilion home court.

But with about five minutes left, something changed.

UCLA went on a 10-2 run to pull within eight points, and the fans were standing for the first time all season. The Bruins needed a stop. The defense tightened up. The shot clock ticked down.

Then Kevin Pangos hit a three-pointer as the 35-second clock expired.

UCLA had no answer, and there would be no surprise ending.

Gonzaga went on to win, 87-74, another non-surprise in UCLA’s nonconference schedule that has gone exactly as the oddsmakers have predicted. The Bruins have beaten up on mid-majors but are running out of chances for a signature nonconference win.


However, despite trailing wire-to-wire against Gonzaga (9-1), UCLA Coach Steve Alford was encouraged.

“I actually feel better about tonight’s performance, better than what we did on Wednesday,” Alford said, in reference to a 77-66 win over UC Riverside.

That might be telling. Little about this team is a mystery. The cavalry on the bench is not coming to provide a spark or a different look. The chance of a lineup change is minimal. Any growth must come from a short rotation of players.

“We’ve got weaknesses, obviously,” Alford has said.

The Bruins couldn’t mask those against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were just better.

UCLA didn’t lose the game with mistakes — they had 12 turnovers but just three in the second half. Their 42% shooting wasn’t quite insurmountable.

The problems were on the defensive end, where UCLA couldn’t handle Gonzaga’s versatile scoring. When the defense switched to zone, Gonzaga shot over the top. When it corrected, holes opened for mid-range looks. The team’s 87 points surrendered was a season high, and Gonzaga shot 58% from the field.

“If you gave them an open shot,” Kevon Looney said, “they weren’t going to miss it.”

Gonzaga also enjoyed a rare size advantage over the Bruins, who were outrebounded for just the second time all season. Kyle Wiltjer got hot early and finished with an efficient 24 points.


“We haven’t seen that all year,” Alford said of Gonzaga’s size. “Not even [North] Carolina.”

Pangos, Gonzaga’s dangerous point guard, was held to nine points and four rebounds. But the Bulldogs had plenty of scoring elsewhere.

UCLA (8-3) has now won every game in which it was favored and lost all three as an underdog. The Bruins know their chances for an impressive nonconference win are almost exhausted.

The next, and likely last, opportunity to beat a ranked nonconference opponent will be Saturday against No. 1 Kentucky.

Once the shooting improved Saturday, UCLA was outscored by just two in the second half. Bryce Alford (23 points) and Isaac Hamilton (18) got hot late to keep up with the Bulldogs.

To start the period, UCLA went on a 7-2 run before Gonzaga scored eight unanswered points. When Gonzaga pushed the lead to 15, the Bruins scored six in a row to get within striking range. Each time, Gonzaga responded.


Afterward, Steve Alford noted the gulf in experience between the two teams.

“They’ve been there, they’ve done that, they’ve played in games that people are giving their best shot for,” he said. “These guys haven’t. This is a first for our team to do that.”

Alford has maintained that as the team plays more, it will improve.

But by the time the Bruins figure it out, their best nonconference chances might be gone.