The stability that was missing more than ever in the starting lineup was found on the court Saturday night by a UCLA team that looked very much together when it mattered.
With JaRon Rush back in town but on the bench in street clothes, and with another new starting five in place as a message to the Bruins who hadn't been working hard enough in practice, they opened Pacific 10 Conference play by beating No. 6 Arizona, 82-75, before 11,453 at Pauley Pavilion.
Jerome Moiso, one of those demoted, came off the bench to get 21 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes. Baron Davis added 20 points and six assists as 10th-ranked UCLA won its seventh in a row and improved to 9-2.
Arizona lost for the first time, dropping to 8-1.
The Bruins led by 16 at halftime and then by as many as 22, on several occasions, after intermissions.
But the Wildcats rallied to at least make things interesting.
They were within 80-75 with 45 seconds left, behind the hot shooting of Jason Terry, but fell short.
"It's a great sign," Bruin guard Earl Watson said of the conference debut. "Beating Arizona is something we should feel proud about."
Lavin faced a tough decision on what to do with Rush, wanting to discipline a player who had missed two practices and one game but not wanting to come down too hard on a freshman in a fragile state.
On the other hand, countless athletes get homesick when moving away from home for the first time and fight through it without skipping a game and misleading teammates about plans to be there.
But if anything, Lavin seemed sympathetic to Rush's plight.
"We have do to a better job of being there for him," said Lavin, who is recruiting younger brother Kareem Rush, a standout high school player in Kansas City, Mo. "For the most part, it's a learning experience, but it's good that we have so many kids that are away from home. In all my time of being around the program, this is the most we've ever had on the roster who are not from around here."
Lavin was far less understanding with some Bruins who had not been suspended.
The coach was so angered at the number of players who sat out practice Thursday with what were perceived to be minor injuries that a portion of the post-workout address in the locker room was delivered with the volume turned up.
"It was not so much a discipline," Lavin said. "For us, guys who bring a work ethic on a daily basis I'm going to give the minutes to."
There might have been a message. But the players had to be listening closely.
Dan Gadzuric was benched--for the first 3:20.
Moiso was benched--for the first 3:47.
Said Moiso later: "He kind of sent me a message, yeah."
The discipline was far more a cosmetic move, though all the more blatant when one of the replacement starters turned out to be junior Sean Farnham, who began the night averaging five minutes a game, second fewest on the team.
It was the first start of Farnham's career.
So the meeting with the No. 6 team in the nation began for the Bruins with a starting front line of 6-7 Travis Reed, 6-5 1/2 Farnham and, in place of Rush, 6-4 Rico Hines, along with the usual backcourt of Earl Watson and Baron Davis.
Arizona, meanwhile, opened with a front line that measured 6-10, 6-8 and 6-7 and tried going inside early, but was unable to exploit the advantage.
Part of the problem that was UCLA didn't need many second-chance opportunities.
The Bruins made five of their first seven shots, worth a 13-4 advantage.
That was when Moiso and Gadzuric entered.
The lead was 27-19 when UCLA went on a 13-5 run the final 6:09 before intermission.
The Wildcats, after shooting 26.9% for the first 20 minutes, faced a 40-24 deficit at halftime.