Another trip, another split. For the second time in conference play, UCLA squandered a chance to claw up the standings by dropping the tail end of a road series.
The Bruins fell 71-67 at Oregon State, and t here were few excuses available this time. The loss at Utah last month — one that followed a win at then-No. 21 Colorado — came with an additional flight from Denver to Salt Lake City; Corvallis is less than an hour’s drive from Eugene. The Utes’ Huntsman Center is among the rowdiest venues in the conference; Gill Coliseum draws an average of 3,897, the second-worst showing in the Pac-12.
And to top it all off, coach Steve Alford had an extra day to prepare heading into an 11:30 a.m. Sunday tipoff.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong did. After holding the Beavers to 35.3 percent shooting through the bulk of the first half, UCLA’s zone defense began to crack.
Eric Moreland and Angus Brandt — two big men capable of hitting the outside shot — stretched the Bruins out across the floor and opened up opportunities for their teammates. The pair finished with a combined 24 points and eight assists. Moreland also gobbled up 14 boards, and forced UCLA forward Travis Wear into his fifth foul with 4:15 left in the game.
Conference scoring leader Roberto Nelson didn’t hit another field goal after opening the game with a pair of 3-pointers, but freshman Hallice Cook more than filled the void. The 6-foot-3 guard poured in a career-high 20 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
With five scorers in double digits, Oregon State led by as much as 11 points and shot 48 percent from the field, including 8-of-18 from beyond the arc.
More damning was the Bruins’ ineptitude on offense. UCLA didn’t score a field goal in the last 3:20 of the first half, and struggled to find their offensive rhythm in the second. Kyle Anderson was the team’s lone double-digit scorer, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds but just two assists. UCLA only had 11 assists against 13 turnovers.
Guards Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 1-of-16 from the field, though both had chances to pull UCLA back into the game. LaVine stole a lazy inbounds pass off of Nelson, then hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 67-64. After David Wear made two more free throws, Adams had a chance for the go-ahead bucket when he drove down the left baseline.
He was hit with a questionable charging foul, and the Beavers iced the game with four more free throws.
UCLA now stands barely above the Pac-12′s muddled middle. At 6-3, they are again tied for second with Cal, which upset undefeated Arizona on Saturday. Behind the trio are Colorado, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington and Oregon State — now all knotted at 5-4 exactly halfway through the league schedule.