Cal 76, UCLA 63

UCLA basketball is clearly set on one task: to make choosing its worst game as hard as possible.

The Bruins’ 76-63 loss at Cal probably doesn’t beat out their early-season faceplant to Cal Poly, but it belongs in the conversation. UCLA was unsightly through the first half, going without a free throw and — until the final minutes of the period — nearly being outscored by the Bears’ star swingman Allen Crabbe. Before the break, the Bruins shot a hair above 30 percent and trailed by as much as 28.

Ben Howland and his players constantly acknowledge that they need to hit the boards harder, hold their blockouts longer. Rarely is an explanation given other than lack of effort or focus. Yet, UCLA was abused on the glass by forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish — both wiry specimens who aren’t listed above 235 pounds. The pair combined for 21 rebounds and 35 points, with Kravish scoring a career-high 18.

Cal finished with a 41-33 edge on the boards, the sixth time in seven games that UCLA has trailed by at least eight rebounds. The Bears, who entered the game relying on Crabbe and point guard Justin Cobbs for over 50 percent of their scoring output, dominated the Bruins with 46-20 points in the paint.

Shabazz Muhammad actually snuck in his third double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but shot just 4 of 13. UCLA never led after the first three minutes of the game, and never got within single digits after the first nine ten.

The Pac-12 is hard to peg right now, so the Bruins could very well bounce back to split the Bay Area trip. That said, Stanford (1 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2) is a similarly hot team that won four of five heading into tonight’s tilt against USC. The Cardinal looked awful the last time they saw the Bruins, but forwards Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis are averaging 16.6 and 13.2 points in their past five games. They have 101 combined rebounds in that same span.

On the bright side for UCLA fans … oh, I don’t know. Baseball starts tomorrow?