LOS ANGELES – Headed into the locker room at halftime, Washington State’s Cougars had a bounce in their step.
An explosive 4-minute run had given them an eight-point edge as they sprinted off the court in their Pac-10 Conference opener Wednesday night. After all, the seven times this year they had led at halftime, they led at the finish.
Twenty basketball minutes later they trudged down the same path, an 80-71 defeat weighing them down.
“We let one get away today,” said Abe Lodwick more than once after the Bruins’ Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt basically wrested it away from the Cougars (10-3 overall) at Pauley Pavilion.
Losing at Pauley isn’t new for WSU – it has won just twice here, both in the past seven years – but the way UCLA (9-4) pinned the Cougars over the final half hurt.
“We’re not the team we want to be right now,” said Lodwick, who had seven rebounds, the same as guard Reggie Moore, and three blocks. “We want to be the best we can be in March.
“We’ve got to learn how to close games out. We were winning at half. The best teams in the nation are winning those games.”
The Bruins were in that category early in the second half.
They overcame the eight-point halftime deficit – WSU led by as many as 11 three times late in a lethargic opening half – with an 18-4 run ignited by Honeycutt’s outside shooting and the inside muscle of the 6-foot-8 Nelson and 6-10, 305-pound freshman Josh Smith.
It was Honeycutt’s 23-footer from the right wing that seemed to get the 7,934 aroused. The jumper, after coming off a series of screens, cut the WSU lead to 39-36.
And when Honeycutt answered a Klay Thompson drive – part of the junior’s 26 points – with another 3-pointer from the corner, the place was jumping.
“I asked him, ‘Will you miss one for us?’ ” Lodwick said.
The answer was no.
The Bruins took the lead for good on Lazeric Jones’ lone 3-pointer two minutes later – part of the point guard’s 10-point, 11-assist night – and WSU had no answer.
The outside shots – UCLA, 2 for 11 beyond the arc in the opening half, hit 4 in the span of 3 minutes early in the second – gave the Bruins the lead, but it was Nelson (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Smith (eight and six) inside who kept the Cougars at bay.
“Big Josh Smith, he’s a load,” Lodwick said of the Kentwood, Wash., native.
Thompson hit a 15-foot jumper with 15:57 remaining, and then didn’t score from the field again until there were 41 seconds left. In between he attacked the rim, but either was fouled or couldn’t finish in traffic.
“It was hard to finish in there,” said Thompson, who was 12 of 12 from the line. “That’s when I think I need to stop and pull up more because they were collapsing at the basket.”
The only other consistent offensive option the Cougs had after halftime was Faisal Aden, who continually got free on the right baseline and nailed nine jumpers. He finished with 19 points in his first Pac-10 game.
DeAngelo Casto had six rebounds for WSU.