UCLA trails Arizona 29-23 at the half

If UCLA fans thought the team’s performance in the first half of its matchup with USC on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournamentset offensive basketball back 50 years, they would have thought the Bruins’ erratic first 20 minutes against Arizona on Thursday sent the game back to the ice age.

UCLA could not have been colder.

The Bruins shot 10-for-29 from the field and committed 10 first-half turnovers and they needed a late-half spurt to avoid one of the worst first-halves in conference history, heading into halftime down 29-23.

With Arizona playing pinpoint defense, UCLA managed just six points 10 minutes into the game, but the Wildcats’ poor offense kept the game close. Eventually the Bruins cut it to a one-point Arizona lead, but the Wildcats went on a mini-spurt to push the lead back to six going into the half.

Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell combined for 5-for-14 shooting and six turnovers, but Arizona also got substandard guard play, and only Solomon Hill has really punished the Bruins, scoring 14 first-half points.

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UCLA beats USC in a laugher, 55-40

The first half of the UCLA-USC matchup in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament was so bad, so laughably bad, that it’s a surprise the teams mustered the courage to emerge from the locker rooms after halftime.

And with the Staples Center about as full as a sumo wrestler after a rice cake, each chuckle coming from the sparse audience was heard loud and clear.

Eventually UCLA cleaned it up, overcame an early eight-point deficit and cruised to a 55-40 win over the Trojans to advance to a 2:30 p.m. matchup today in the second round against Arizona.

“I didn’t think that we were starting to panic,” senior guard Lazeric Jones said. “Obviously you get a little rattled sometimes when things aren’t going your way. But I felt like we calmed down eventually. We started to take better shots and move the ball around better. But I mean, it happens. Basketball is a game of runs. They had theirs and luckily we had ours in the second half.”

The Bruins may not have been panicking, but the handful of fans in the crowd might have once they realized their tickets were non-refundable.

The Los Angeles rivals had not scored almost three minutes in, combined to make just 5-of-29 attempts to start the game and managed a combined 19 points in the game’s first 11:58. USC took control by way of the offensive inadequacies, settling down to grab a 21-13 lead.

The Bruins, though, responded by tightening up defensively and holding the Trojans scoreless for the last 3:58 of the half to take a 22-21 lead into the break.

“Obviously the first 10, 12 minutes of the first half we were really a step slow, out of sync,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “The premise of their defense is to pack everybody in and make you take jump shots. We took about five jump shots right away early in the game and missed all of them. It seemed like it continued to snow ball. Then finally Zeke hit a few and we got down 7 or 8 and brought us back.”

Howland almost negated the Bruins’ size advantage over the thin Trojans by benching sophomore center Joshua Smith for the first half for being four minutes late to the team bus, which traveled the short distance from the J.W. Marriott in L.A. Live to Staples Center, Smith actually beating the bus to the game on foot.

In his stead, David and Travis Wear tried to capitalize but could not, combining for 20 points and nine rebounds. Worse, UCLA was not making USC pay for collapsing into the post as the backcourt duo of Jones and Jerime Anderson opened the game a combined 2-of-10 shooting.

The Trojans faded quickly in the second half, however, and the Bruins opened with an 18-4 run, eventually putting the finishing touches on one of USC’s worst seasons in history.

“Honestly, I don’t know the answer,” Trojans guard Byron Wesley said. “We came out strong. We had lots of energy in the first half. We had lots of momentum. Second half, we had the same game plan. Wanted to come out strong, but things just didn’t pan out.”

UCLA now moves on to face a Wildcats team in a state of flux, as head coach Sean Miller announced the suspension of freshman point guard Josiah Turner for a violation of team rules. Turner had eight points and five rebounds in 35 minutes in the team’s Feb. 25 matchup in Tucson, a 65-63 Arizona win.

“They’ll rally,” Howland said. “I mean, they’re coming off a tough loss against a rival school, Arizona State, and you know they’re going to want to play well. I think they suspended Josiah back in November, and they played very well without him. So I don’t know that they’re going to skip much of a beat in that respect, and probably brings their guys even more unified.”

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Pac-12 Roundball Roundtable Pt. 10

These are no Siskels and Eberts, but a handful of Pac-12 beat writers had the best – or worst? – view of what was one rotten men’s basketball season. Jeff Faraudo of the Oakland Tribune (Cal), Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic (Arizona State), Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune (Washington) and Tom Kensler of the Denver Post (Colorado) join the Daily News’ Jon Gold for a roundtable discussion on what doomed the conference…and what it can do to fix itself.

10) How many NCAA tournament picks does this conference deserve?

Jon Gold: Only Washington and Cal will go, but plucky Oregon deserves a shot, and might get it.

Two — Washington and Cal. Unless someone else wins the Pac-12 tournament . . . which certainly could happen.

Doug Haller: I think Oregon will win the automatic bid at this week’s Pac-12 Tournament, so I think three. Washington, Cal and the Ducks.

Bill Oram: I think Oregon, Cal and Washington all deserve bids, but I’d be shocked if more than two are rewarded.

Ryan Divish: Probably two at least, if Oregon were to win the Pac-12 tourney title then three. Because I feel like Washington and Cal should be in.

Tom Kensler: Three.

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Pac-12 Roundball Roundtable Pt. 9

These are no Siskels and Eberts, but a handful of Pac-12 beat writers had the best – or worst? – view of what was one rotten men’s basketball season. Jeff Faraudo of the Oakland Tribune (Cal), Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic (Arizona State), Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune (Washington) and Tom Kensler of the Denver Post (Colorado) join the Daily News’ Jon Gold for a roundtable discussion on what doomed the conference…and what it can do to fix itself.

9) Who is your pick for 2012-13 player of the year?

Jon Gold: Maybe it’s just husky to husky and Husky love, but if UCLA’s Joshua Smith and Washington’s Tony Wroten return, they split the award. Though Smith might want seconds.

Jeff Faraudo: Tony Wroten, if he stays and Terrence Ross leaves. Ross, if he stays and Wroten leaves. Or Jared Cunningham, if he stays and both UW guys leave. If all three leave, maybe UCLA incoming recruit Kyle Anderson.

Doug Haller: Terrence Ross. Something tells me he’ll return for his junior season. And with Tony Wroten gone, he will lead the Pac-12 in scoring. (If I had any faith that UCLA’s Joshua Smith would work his tail off this summer, he’d be my choice in a heartbeat.)

Bill Oram: Assuming the Beavers don’t fall apart (again) in conference games, Jared Cunningham, with Stanford’s Josh Huestis in the mix, too. I really think Huestis is on the cusp of being a great college player.

Ryan Divish: Hmm, that’s tough because you are basing that on a team is likely to finish in the top three and I really think either Terrence Ross and/or Tony Wroten will leave for the draft. If either returns that’s my pick. Otherwise it would be Jared Cunningham of OSU

Tom Kensler: Incoming Arizona signee Brandon Ashley.

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Pac-12 Roundball Roundtable Pt. 8

These are no Siskels and Eberts, but a handful of Pac-12 beat writers had the best – or worst? – view of what was one rotten men’s basketball season. Jeff Faraudo of the Oakland Tribune (Cal), Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic (Arizona State), Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune (Washington) and Tom Kensler of the Denver Post (Colorado) join the Daily News’ Jon Gold for a roundtable discussion on what doomed the conference…and what it can do to fix itself.

8) Predict next year’s top three teams?

Jon Gold: Arizona, UCLA, Washington

Jeff Faraudo: Kind of depends on who comes and goes between now and then. Most of the conference should be improved. Let’s say: 1. Arizona. 2. UCLA. 3. Oregon . . . or Oregon State or Cal or Stanford or Washington.

Doug Haller: Arizona, UCLA, Washington

Bill Oram: Arizona, UCLA, Colorado

Ryan Divish: UCLA, Arizona and Washington. Of course, the Huskies could be dramatically different if both Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten leave. So that could change my pick to Colorado or Oregon State.

Tom Kensler: 1. Washington, 2, Arizona, 3, UCLA.

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