The hard part for UCLA’s players wasn’t that they lost to USC, though that was bad enough. Their consternation came from the fact they felt they improved . . . and still lost.
The 68-64 loss to USC on Sunday was a big step forward from the 67-46 beating the Trojans gave the Bruins last month. But UCLA players, and fans, are not used to judging things in A-for-effort terms.
“It’s frustrating because that first game, they just came and just took it,” Bruins guard Malcolm Lee said. “I felt we fought this game, but we had a lot of mistakes on our end that were controllable. We can only do the things that we can control, and we didn’t do a good job.”
A lot has been out of their hands this season, as the Bruins (11-13 overall, 6-6 in Pacific 10 Conference play) are staring at their first losing season since 2003-04, Coach Ben Howland’s first in Westwood.
Being swept by the Trojans showed how far the Bruins have fallen — they have been swept by USC five times since the 1942-43 season.
“I thought we had a real shot to win the game,” Howland said. “You look at the stats, obviously the turnovers plagued us. You have to give them credit; they did a great job in their press. They forced turnovers. But we have to be able to take care of the ball in those situations.”
UCLA did turn the ball over 20 times, offsetting their 46-25 rebound edge. Howland also pointed to a nine-for-18 performance from the free-throw line. Howland then pointed to shot selection, saying, “Overall, I thought we shot too many threes.” The Bruins were cold on three-pointers, making seven of 26.
Those, though, appear to be mere symptoms. The bigger picture is the Bruins are lacking the talent to succeed in a mediocre conference and were left pointing at silver linings.
“I think we played tough and matched their intensity, not like the first time we played them,” forward Nikola Dragovic said.
“It’s been tough,” Howland said. “We got to bounce back now.
“We have a lot of young guys returning [next season] and they are getting a lot of experience. I bet we’re playing more freshman minutes than anybody in the league. Our young guys will benefit from that.”
A memory for Lane
Forward James Keefe missed the game after he re-injured his left shoulder in practice. That left the Bruins short-handed and gave freshman Brendan Lane an opportunity, as he made his first career start.
“They told me during the walk-through in the morning,” Lane said. “I was a little nervous, I know [USC is] strong with [Alex] Stepheson down there. I just had to go in there and bang.”
Lane finished with two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. He also had two turnovers. “He gave us good minutes off the bench,” Howland said.
Keefe is doubtful for this week’s games against Washington State and Washington. That leaves ReevesNelson as their only experienced inside player and Lane as the second choice over one-time phenom J’mison Morgan.
But the lack of an inside presence Sunday “wore us down a little bit as the game moved on,” Howland said.