How does a UCLA men’s basketball team score only four points in nearly seven minutes?
For the bumbling Bruins on Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion, it was shockingly simple.
Senior forward Nikola Dragovic misses a couple off-balance shots and the team turns the ball over. Freshman forward Reeves Nelson can’t convert inside and sophomore shooting guard Malcolm Lee starts hoisting ill-advised 3-pointers.
USC put the clamps on UCLA early and built an 11-point lead to start the game, ultimately closing out the Bruins 67-46 on Saturday.
For measure, it was the Bruins’ worst loss to their cross-town rival in 65 years and the Trojans’ biggest win ever at Pauley Pavilion over UCLA.
“Our guys were pumped up for the game, so I think that contributed to a few of the early mishaps,” said UCLA head coach Ben Howland, whose team tied for its season-low 3-point shooting percentage at just 3-for-20. “We’re going to have to start the game just being in motion, understanding that we’re going to wait. We just struggled to score. We couldn’t score.”
Unlike against Cal on Jan. 6, though, UCLA (7-10, 2-3) could not turn it on in the second half.
Against the Bears, the Bruins shot 42 percent in the first half, and 2-for-11 from behind the 3-point line, before closing the game by hitting 7-of-9 3-pointers and 12-of-21 field goals in a last-second win.
There was no comeback against USC.
Employing new head coach Kevin O’Neill’s stifling man-to-man defense, the Trojans (11-6, 3-2) bottled up the interior, forced bad shots and generally frustrated the Bruins.
“We’ve been easing in and not coming out of the blocks every game. Tonight we got off to a great start; I thought we defended at a high level most of the game. We put ourselves in a position to win and didn’t let down throughout the game.”
One reason for UCLA’s poor performance, at least according to Lee: USC’s advance scouting.
“They really had our plays scouted really well,” Lee said. “The second half they forced us to go more in motion; they were defending our set plays really well. It can be a little frustrating, because it feels like they know what we’re doing. Man, we have to have a counter for that.”
The Bruins, though, had no counter.
Lee and senior guard Michael Roll each had 12 points while combining for 9-of-23 shooting, but UCLA’s other three starters – Nelson, Dragovic and freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt – finished a combined 3-for-15, with Dragovic shooting just 0-for-6.
Howland was concerned with Dragovic’s shot selection, as he took a number of fadeaway, tilted 3-pointers that clanked hard off the rim.
“It was very disappointing,” Howland said. “He took some bad shots today, and he has to understand that this is the result when you don’t wait for it. They were forcing him to try to put the ball on the floor, and that’s not his strength.”