By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
After a second half filled with stylish passing and mean-streets defense, the seventh-ranked Bruins beat Davidson, 75-63, in the second game of the Wooden Classic in front of 17,440 on Saturday. St. Mary's defeated San Diego State, 69-64, in the first game.
After his happy congratulations, Wooden took a microphone and praised the Bruins (8-1) in a way that made Howland smile. "We played tough defense," Wooden said. "Most championships are won on defense and sharing the ball extremely well. If we get behind, we come back. We don't give up. I'd rather we wouldn't get behind that much in the first half though."
Indeed, for the third time this season, UCLA slogged through an uninspiring first 20 minutes. After trailing Michigan State by 13 (the Bruins ended up winning) and Texas by 16 points (they lost), UCLA was behind Davidson, 32-14, with 6 minutes 18 seconds left in the first half.
Backup forward Andrew Lovedale had just made a hook shot and Bryant Barr had come off the bench to make three three-point baskets to help the Wildcats (3-5) leave the Bruins looking muddled.
Junior Josh Shipp said it was tough to explain these slow starts. "Our intensity level isn't where it should be," he said. "But we do have a never quit attitude."
That attitude kicked in when the overhead scoreboard showed the Wildcats celebrating Lovedale's nifty shot.
It was Shipp who got UCLA moving with two free throws and the Bruins began to push the tempo faster by making some defensive stops. Point guard Darren Collison tipped in a missed layup by Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love moved aggressively inside and made two free throws, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scored seven points in a row (he had 12 at halftime) to pull the Bruins to within 32-27.
The deficit was 34-30 at the break, but the momentum had swung all the way toward Westwood. Davidson Coach Bob McKillop said he told his team that the first half had been about runs. "We had one, they had one," he said.
He had hoped his team would make another at the start of the second half, but instead Shipp made a 15-foot jump shot to start and Mbah a Moute, who had a season-high 21 points plus eight rebounds, made a three-pointer to give UCLA its first lead of the game, 35-34.
The Bruins took the lead for good, 43-41, on a three-pointer by Shipp with 16:20 left. Davidson, which has already lost to top-ranked North Carolina, 72-68, and sixth-ranked Duke, 79-73, was left without the resources to make another big run.
McKillop counted three key statistics that told him the story. "They doubled us up on rebounding," McKillop said of the Bruins' 37-18 advantage. "They beat us 20-0 on second-chance points. And they had a 21-1 free-throw advantage [in the first half]. Those things all equate with toughness."
Also earning praise from both McKillop and Howland was UCLA's sophomore guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was the primary defender on sophomore Stephen Curry, who was averaging 26 points a game. Westbrook held him to 15 on six-for-19 shooting. Westbrook also finished with 14 points, six assists and three rebounds.
It was amped-up defense by everybody in the second half that kept the Bruins in a quick tempo. The Wildcats shot 51.9% from the field in the first half and only 40.7% in the second. All five Bruins starters scored in double figures and Love had his fifth double-double of the season (12 points, 12 rebounds).
UCLA will play in its sixth consecutive Wooden Classic on Dec. 13, 2008, and its 12th overall. An opponent will be named later. The first two rounds of the 2008 NCAA tournament will be at the Honda Center next March and Howland said that once renovations begin at Pauley Pavilion he hopes the Bruins will play more games in Anaheim, saying he would expect at least one Pacific 10 Conference weekend swing to be at the Honda Center.