No. 23 UCLA headed to Pullman, Wash., controlling its own destiny.
On Wednesday in The Palouse, the Pac-12 regular-season championship didn’t slip out of the hands of the Bruins. It was thrown away, more or less, in a 73-61 loss to Washington State, in a game the Cougars led from start to finish.
Ben Howland aknowledged he was “wary” of the game, despite the fact the Bruins had won 19 in a row at Washington State, a streak dating to 1993 that predated his time as UCLA’s head coach. The Cougars (12-18, 3-14 Pac-12) were determined to end that streak, and that determination was clear from the start.
Washington State began the game on a 7-0 run, stamped by a layup by senior Brock Motum, who had game highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes. The Cougars led 25-4 as UCLA (22-8, 12-5) missed nine of its first 10 shots and was dominated on the boards early on, 10-2. The Bruins were out-rebounded 47-25 for the game.
The Bruins didn’t score their sixth point of the night until the 8:21 mark of the first half.
”We didn’t come out with the emotion and intensity that we needed,” Howland said. ”We didn’t have the sense of urgency when so much was riding on the line for us.”
All of this coming against the worst team in the conference playing without two of its top three scorers, Mike Ladd and DaVonte Lacy, and riding a nine-game losing streak.
But it was the Bruins who looked like they were in over their heads. Facing the zone of the Cougars, the Bruins’ counter was to jack up shots from beyond the arc. More than half of the Bruins’ 57 attempts were from 3-point range. UCLA shot 27.6 percent from beyond the arc (8 of 29) and 38.6 percent from the field.
Leading up to the game, there was a lot of attention centered around the futures of UCLA’s freshmen.
Shabazz Muhammad didn’t say he was leaving after this season, but Howland did it for him after the win against Arizona. Guard Jordan Adams said he was returning for his sophomore season. Forward Kyle Anderson’s dad suggested his son was staying as well.
Anderson, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, finished with four points on 2-of-7 shooting and eight rebounds. It was a poor shooting night for Muhammad as well. He was just 4-of-19 and finished with 14 points.
Adams was the lone bright spot with 18 points and four steals. He scored five in a row to end the first half and cut the deficit to 35-24.
Muhammad connected on one of his 11 3-point attempts with 17:19 left in the second half to get the Bruins within 37-31, but they wouldn’t get any closer.
The Bruins are now a half-game behind first-place Oregon. The Ducks are at Colorado and at Utah to end the season, while the Bruins finish at Washington on Saturday morning, which is double trouble: UCLA has struggled with early Saturday games, and has lost eight in a row in Seattle.
Furthermore, the Bruins may be without big man Travis Wear, who left Wednesday’s game in the second half after aggravating a right foot injury.