Freshman center Kevin Love led all scorers with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Bruin point guard Darren Collison added 14 points and 5 assists. Ryan Anderson, held to just two free throws in the first half, led Cal with 12 points and 8 boards, while DeVon Hardin added 8 rebounds and Patrick Christopher 11 points in a losing effort.
"Like most teams have been doing" said Anderson, "they doubled us, but we weren't hitting our shots. I wasn't playing like my normal self; I played soft and didn't get my points down low. I need to embrace the double-team and hit the open guys. I struggle with that sometimes."
Down by nine at the half, the Bears went on a 9-2 run in the first six minutes of the second session and closed to within two points with 14:15 left in the game on a Hardin slam dunk over Lorenzo Mata-Real and the free throw that followed it. But then Cal couldn't seize the rebound they needed as UCLA missed three straight shots at the other end, and Russell Westbrook's layup started a 16-7 run that put the game away for the Bruins. Cal scored on only five of their next 14 possessions.
"We knew we had a run coming" Christopher said, "we just didn't know when it was going to come. It did come, and (then) they got a layup. They seized momentum and controlled tempo of the game."
"They sink into the paint a lot - they double and triple team a lot" Hardin said. "They know Ryan and I are the team's strength down low and they focused on that.
"They had good pressure on the ball, and then with the ¾ front, it was hard for our guards to find an opening to get the ball in. Overall they played a great game, good defense."
With three Pac-10 Top-25 teams having fallen already, Ben Braun's Bears had an early chance to make a statement about where they belong in the toughest conference in America. The answer now seems to be "competing for the second tier" which is neither a surprise nor an embarrassment.
The 5th-ranked, 1-loss UCLA Bruins came into Haas on Saturday and pretty much had their way with the Bears in the first half of the game. UCLA, led by Love's 13 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and five rebounds, held a 36-25 lead at the half. The Bruins bolted out to a 13-2 lead before Cal hit their first shot from the floor with 4:06 already gone. Only Christopher tallied baskets in the first seven minutes for Cal.
Hardin in the huddle
"He has as high a basketball IQ for a freshman as I've ever seen" said Braun of Love. "He's not the fastest or quickest player, but he's efficient. He's a really special player."
DeVon Hardin acknowledged the first-year post player: "He is a good player - gotta give him his props. For a freshman to come in and do the things he does, he's a good player. His diligence on offense, the way he's constantly working for position - he reminds me of Michael Beasley."
At the first media time out, the Bears, down 13-4, huddled close around Ben Braun - but at the other end of the court, the UCLA coaching brain trust met at the free-throw line, away from their team, for a full minute before going back to impart their wisdom.
And, while Cal's players sat through the timeout, as they always do, the Bruins who were playing remained standing the entire time. The Bruins appeared to be flaunting their conditioning - they are known as a second-half team that wears down opponents both physically and psychologically, and they started doing that early on Saturday.
USC has the reputation for playing tough defense; Cal put 92 points on the board, including a 54-point half. The real defensive standout in the Southland is the Bruins, who played a smothering zone trap, used great 'help' against Cal's low-post efforts, and held the Bears to just six baskets in the game's first 17minutes - and 8 total in the first half. Ryan Anderson was 0-6 and Jerome Randle 1-5 from the floor.
"Not only are they one of the best defensive teams in our conference" said Braun, "they are one of the best defensive teams in the country. I really admire their will to work and take things away defensively. You have to take what the defense gives you, and they don't give you much."
"We got two wins on the road against two very good teams" Love said, "and for most teams, they will be hard to sweep."
Meanwhile, UCLA was playing solid position offense - it was painful to watch Randle chase Collison around the floor, usually a step behind the UCLA point guard. Collison frequently runs out of bounds to create space, and occasionally left Randle there while he slashed for a pass and quick basket. His experience clearly showed as he coolly dribbled into traffic, then stepped back to create just enough space to drain his final shot of the half with no time on the clock.
The Bruins built the lead despite committing 11 fouls and nine turnovers in the half, so the Bears had to consider themselves fortunate to trail by only 11 at the break. UCLA shot 50% in the first half, making 15 of 30, while the Bears had their worst half of the season, shooting 8-for-27 (29.6%), well below their season-average of 49.9%.
The Bruins managed so many good looks by virtue of setting screen after screen - Cal's Christopher nearly exhausted himself fighting through three Bruins on one play only to arrive in time to watch Josh Shipp's three-point basket snap the twine.
For the first time all year, Haas was packed to the rafters, and you felt the scalpers outside really did "need" tickets. At 35 minutes to tip-off, the Bruins took the floor to a hearty round of disapproval that matched in intensity anything heard prior to the Pac-10 season. Despite historically bad weather (a storm rated "9.5 out of 10" by the Weather Service, with winds in the Sierras gusting to 170 mph at ridge tops and two to eight inches of rain in the Bay Area over 24 hours), a full house of Cal fans found their way to the venerable building off Spieker Plaza.
#22 USC, #24 Stanford, and #21 Arizona had all lost already in this first weekend of what promises to be a punishing and brutal Pac-10 season. While there are probably seven teams that rank in the top 65, and should make the March tournament, the possibility exists that they will beat each other up so severely that 14-4 could win the conference - and only five teams might then get the coveted invitations to the March dance.
Cal goes on the road next week to the Oregon schools to visit 0-2 OSU, which played the Arizona Wildcats tough for 30 minutes on Thursday, and Oregon, which played the Arizona Wildcats tougher for 40 minutes on Saturday. The big thing to look for next weekend is whether Theo Robertson plays - if he does not, then he will have missed more than half the season, and the Law of Diminishing Returns may suit him with a medical redshirt.
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