The No. 17 UCLA Bruins looked lost, and not just because they were playing away from their campus arena.
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Ashley Hamilton scored 23 points, Anthony Ireland added 21 and Loyola Marymount pulled off the upset 69-58 on Friday night in the teams’ season opener, the Bruins’ first game in their temporary home at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
”I’ve played in big games before,” said Hamilton, who is from England. ”I played for my national team and we played in big buildings and big programs before. I just felt like I had to stay calm and be aggressive.”
Reeves Nelson and David Wear scored 13 points each for the Bruins, who were in the preseason rankings for the first time since the 2008-09 season. It will likely be a short stay.
”That was a very disappointing way to start our season off,” said coach Ben Howland, whose only other loss in an opener during his UCLA tenure was to Cal State Fullerton in 2009. ”It’s a bad loss for us. I’ve been saying it, we have a long way to go.”
Big man Josh Smith wasn’t a factor for the Bruins, with five points and four rebounds in 16 minutes with foul trouble limiting him, similar to his freshman season. The Lions’ defense targeted Smith, fronting him in the post and limiting his contact with the ball.
UCLA guard Lazeric Jones struggled too, with three points, three assists and three turnovers playing in front of former high school teammate Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and former UCLA stars Russell Westbrook and Ryan Hollins, also idled by the NBA lockout.
”Lazeric was pressing a lot,” Howland said. ”He was trying to do too much. He’s got to make the simple play.”
The Lions led by one point at halftime and controlled most of the second half, building their first double-digit lead, 53-42, on two free throws by Hamilton that capped a 12-0 run.
”They were able to drive us all night. We kept getting beat on penetration,” Howland said. ”We made a lot of defensive breakdown mistakes.”
Playing not far from their westside campus, the Lions enjoyed good crowd support, with their fans chanting ”LMU! LMU!” in the final minutes. They snapped a 12-game losing skid to the Bruins and beat them for the first time since the 1941-42 season.
”I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” Ireland said. ”As a matter of fact, since we are a small school, it actually pumped us up. We feel like we want to be on the same level as them.”
UCLA fans, meanwhile, began leaving the aging building with five minutes to play and their team down by five. The Bruins never led in the second half, managing one tie early on. It was the school’s first loss playing as the home team at the Sports Arena since the 1961-62 season, when John Wooden was coaching the Bruins.
”It’s not what any of us expected,” said David Wear, who was making his UCLA debut along with his twin brother Travis after sitting out last season as a result of transferring from North Carolina. ”We got all the tools and talent on offense. We just got to be more patient.”
Travis Wear described the postgame locker room atmosphere, saying, ”Angry wasn’t really the word. Stunned would probably be more appropriate.”
The Lions hit 10 of 15 3-pointers, with Ireland and C.J. Blackwell making three apiece. UCLA made just 2 of 15 from long-range.
Hamilton hit consecutive 3-pointers to put the Bruins down by 10 with 3:41 remaining. UCLA was limited to one field goal in the final 5:47.
”The thing we try to impress on our guys is to compete, compete, compete,” Loyola Marymount coach Max Good said. ”They only outrebounded us by one and they are obviously much bigger and stronger than we are. We’ve got some hard-nosed kids and they’ve become hard-nosed.”
The Lions opened on a 26-18 run, hitting four 3-pointers during the stretch in which they twice led by eight.
The Bruins regrouped to end the half with a 15-6 spurt, including 10 straight points that left them trailing 34-33. Travis Wear had seven points in the run.
The Bruins played without backup guard Jerime Anderson, who served the second and final game of his suspension for stealing a lapup on campus last summer. He sat on the bench in a suit and tie.
It was UCLA’s first game in the Sports Arena since 2006, when they were the visiting team against rival Southern California, which played in the building before moving to a new campus arena nearby. The lower bowl seats are still red, a remnant of USC’s tenancy, although they were topped by white UCLA covers.
”They did a great job getting it renovated for us,” Travis Wear said.
UCLA imported its record 11 national championship banners to the rafters and a fresh coat of Bruins blue paint lent a familiar touch. The school pitched in with the Sports Arena to purchase a new digital scoreboard. The court was borrowed from the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, so it was missing the designation Nell and John Wooden Court.