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Not All Is Lost for the Bruins

College basketball: UCLA feeling confident after 66-62 loss to defending national champion Kentucky.

November 29, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico — Los Bruins de UCLA didn't crash and burn after all, as likely as that destiny had appeared a day earlier.

Instead, UCLA took defending national champion Kentucky to the final minute Saturday before losing, 66-62, in the third-place game of the Puerto Rico Shootout.

The outcome became cause for positive feelings by the Bruins. To UCLA, this was merely its future popping on the radar screen.

"Today," forward Jerome Moiso said, "we saw how good we can be. We saw our potential."

Not to mention his. Moiso, having appeared timid, even soft, in the early going--understandable for a true freshman, just not one with international experience that transcends facing Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco--was outstanding. That was especially true in the second half, when he had 15 of his game-high 25 points and made seven of nine shots.

It wasn't only him, though. Guard Earl Watson, previously either pressing while trying to play his game and compensate for the absence of injured Baron Davis or simply out of control, settled down. He had 14 points, five steals and, after piling up twice as many turnovers as assists the first three games of the season, five assists against one turnover.

It was all the Bruins really, even as they shot 39.7%, dropped to 2-2 and finished the tournament with back-to-back losses. Steve Lavin called the first 20 minutes, when their hustling defense led them a 32-27 edge and limited Kentucky to 32% shooting, as good a half as any of his teams have played in the two-plus seasons as head coach. The fourth-ranked Wildcats were practically sealed off from the paint, instead taking advantage of UCLA diving inside to compensate for a small lineup to make six three-point baskets, many on wide-open looks.

The second half wasn't so bad, either, for the Bruins, but they couldn't sustain. A game after being hit by Maryland's 17-6 rally coming out of the break in the eventual 16-point loss to the fifth-ranked Terrapins, the Wildcats went on a 17-4 run immediately after intermission.

That was worth a 41-36 lead for Kentucky, coming off an upset loss to Pittsburgh the day before. UCLA soon moved ahead again as Moiso scored seven consecutive points, hitting a pair of baseline jumpers and a jump hook from the post while being fouled, but that's when the Wildcats took over for good.

Tayshaun Prince, the freshman from Compton Dominguez High, connected on a three-point shot from the left side.

Prince made another three-pointer from almost exactly the same spot, 22 feet out.

Wayne Turner made two free throws.

Heshimu Evans had a three-point play, driving the lane for the basket and then adding a free throw.

Jamaal Magloire made a sweeping hook.

Kentucky had scored 13 points on only five possessions. UCLA had four misses in the same span, three of them three-pointers and one a rush by Rico Hines as the shot clock reached two.

"They came out and established their dominance in the paint, and that opened up their outside game," Lavin said.

It was worth a 56-45 lead for the Wildcats with 6:45 remaining. The best the Bruins could do was make it interesting.

UCLA was within 58-55 with 3:20 left as the Kentucky fans who comprised the majority of the 2,500 fans packed in Eugene Guerra Sports Complex sweated out a possible 1-2 trip themselves. The Bruins--after inserting Ryan Bailey in place of Matt Barnes in the starting lineup in another shake-up--were within 63-60 with 36 seconds remaining, a boost coming from the defense that forced the Wildcats into a 45-second violation.

But when Scott Padgett made two free throws with 34 seconds to go, UCLA was down by five, and done. The Bruins would end up losing by four, much closer than most probably would have figured given their play so far.

They wouldn't accept it as a moral victory. As a good sign, that much they would embrace.

"Tonight, we saw the tip of the iceberg, their potential," Lavin said. "We saw the tip of their potential."

Said JaRon Rush, who contributed 14 points: "We feel pretty good. We know we can play with the top teams in the nation. We know in time that teams will be scared of us."

How much time being the question.

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