PULLMAN – Whether it’s been by superior talent, execution or late-game savvy, the UCLA Bruins hadn’t lost a men’s basketball here since 1993 entering Saturday’s game.
They still haven’t. But on this day, it wasn’t so much about the Bruins outplaying Washington State as it was the Cougars simply failing to take care of the ball.
The Bruins scored 18 points off WSU’s 15 turnovers, coupling that with Josh Smith’s 19 points to hand the Cougars a frustrating 63-60 loss at Beasley Coliseum, their first defeat in Pullman this season.
“Take half that back,” junior forward Brock Motum said of UCLA’s 18 points off turnovers, “and we win the game by six or whatever.”
“We don’t have a defense for those turnovers that end up in breakaway layups,” coach Ken Bone said. “That really hurt us in tonight’s game.”
No more so than just before halftime, and again just after it.
Motum scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, and WSU (12-11, 4-7 Pac-12) led 34-27 with the ball and a chance to hold for the final shot before halftime. But Marcus Capers had the ball stolen by UCLA guard Lazeric Jones, who raced to the other end and dunked while absorbing a foul from Capers.
Jones missed the free throw, but the Bruins snagged some momentum in the process.
It carried into the second half. In the opening minutes, DaVonte Lacy tried to throw a pass to Abe Lodwick near midcourt. But Lodwick had already began to cut the other way, the ball was stolen by Jerime Anderson, and Capers again committed an ill-advised foul as Anderson completed a breakaway layup to cut WSU’s lead to 34-31.
“There were a few times where I thought UCLA did a good job with aggressive play, but really, the turnovers I’m concerned with were the ones where we were lackadaisical and too comfortable making a soft pass, it seemed like,” Bone said.
The Bruins (13-10, 6-5) were also able to impose Smith, listed at 6-foot-10 and an awfully conservative 305 pounds, against WSU’s smaller front line. The Cougars tried everything they could to prevent him from catching the ball – often using a guard to front him – but Smith still managed to make 8 of 9 from the field.
“He’s a big dude,” Motum said. “Once he gets it down there, there’s not much anyone can do.”
The big man scored six straight points to key an 8-0 UCLA run that gave the Bruins a 58-51 lead with 4:49 to play. WSU didn’t respond well when UCLA switched to a zone for much of the second half, struggling to penetrate and making just 5 of 14 3-point attempts.
Jumpers wouldn’t fall. Drives to the basket were thwarted by Smith and UCLA forward David Wear, each of whom were allowed to apply some muscle in the process. Motum was limited to six points in the second half.
“The zone affected him,” Bone said. “And if it affects Brock, it affects us.”
Abe Lodwick snapped a nearly 6-minute scoreless span with a 3-pointer that made it 58-54 with 3:30 to play. But the Cougars didn’t score again until Reggie Moore made two 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds, the second of which cut UCLA’s lead to 62-60 with 2.4 seconds remaining. By then, it was too late.
“Good defensive teams force you to turn the ball over,” Lodwick said. “So passes you can sneak through or that you can be a little bit more casual with in other games, it doesn’t work against UCLA. We found that out early and unfortunately we didn’t correct it enough to get the win.”
Against UCLA in Pullman, they usually don’t.