LOS ANGELES – Though few bothered to watch, many had to wonder how the UCLA basketball team would respond to the negative publicity it received from Sports Illustrated this week.
Washington State needs little convincing that if the Bruins were at all distracted, they certainly didn’t play like it Thursday night.
And WSU didn’t play as if it cared much about the result.
There was no disinterest in UCLA’s man-to-man defense. No quit in their shooting percentage, either. Instead it was WSU that looked lost, lethargic and uninspired, making just seven field goals in the first half of a 78-46 loss before 5,099 at the drab Los Angeles Sports Arena.
“We took many steps backward today,” WSU senior Abe Lodwick said.
“It’s just embarrassing all the way around.”
Who knew WSU (14-15, 6-11 Pac-12) would be the team that would leave this building humiliated? Especially after Sports Illustrated published a story on its website Wednesday that painted a picture of UCLA’s program as undisciplined and at times out of control during coach Ben Howland’s tenure. Drugs and alcohol were mentioned, too.
But these looked more like your dad’s Bruins (17-13, 10-7). They shot 56 percent in the first half to lead 38-19 at halftime, then did more of the same in the second, beginning that period on a 13-4 run.
They scored in transition. They scored from the perimeter (11 of 16 from 3-point range). They trailed 5-0 early, but then Lazeric Jones scored 11 of his 18 points during a 14-2 run, and the Cougars never recovered.
“We didn’t play good D, and that gave them confidence to get hot,” WSU forward Brock Motum said. “If we had stopped them early there’s no way they would have kept shooting 3s.”
Zone didn’t work. Man-to-man didn’t work. It was as if a season’s worth of potential came pouring out of the Bruins in one night, the frustrations of a disappointing season taken out on a WSU team that wasn’t ready for it.
“When you play hard you can at least cover up some mistakes,” Lodwick said. “And I feel like we didn’t play hard, so when we made mistakes and you’re not trying hard and you don’t play with heart, everything else compounds itself.”
“It seemed to me like we really didn’t come ready to play,” coach Ken Bone said. “That’s on me. I’m the head coach.
“Sometimes if it’s one or two guys, you can put the blame on them, but when it’s half the team at least, it’s my responsibility to have them ready to go.”
Motum led WSU with 18 points, but made just 6 of 15 shots from the field and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
The Cougars turned the ball over 13 times, the Bruins scoring 22 points as a result. WSU shot 34.7 percent from the field, 2 of 13 from 3-point range.
No other WSU player scored more than five points.
The loss won’t impact WSU much in the standings, but the result is still discouraging, because it came in such lopsided fashion to a team WSU nearly beat in early February. And the Cougars hadn’t laid an egg as rotten as this one since an 85-61 loss at Arizona on Jan. 28.
That, and the Cougars had hoped for two wins in Southern California to gain some momentum heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Instead, they’ll need a win over USC on Saturday just to ensure they end the regular season with a .500 record.
“That inconsistency has plagued us during the season,” Lodwick said. “I thought we were past that.”