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Bruins Run Out of Last Chances

UCLA plays one of its best games of the season but drops fifth in a row, 52-51 to Stanford. Bruins' 4-10 start is their worst in 57 years.

January 24, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

PALO ALTO — In this topsy-turvy season, is it any surprise UCLA felt right at home on the road?

That the Bruins turned in their most spirited effort of the season, yet were thwarted by a big man named Little? Pummeled beyond recognition by the friendly, familiar face of Josh Childress?

Some things, however, have become distressingly predictable.

UCLA again turned tentative in the waning moments and fumbled away a chance to win, falling, 52-51, to Stanford on Thursday night.

The Bruins had won three years in a row at Maples Pavilion, twice beating Stanford teams ranked No. 1. But overcoming the malaise that has UCLA (4-10, 2-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference) in a vice grip proved too difficult even here, and the Bruins, with five losses in a row, reached 10 sooner than any season since 1945-46.

UCLA had possession with 13 seconds left, trailing by one. Guard Cedric Bozeman drove into the lane and fed T.J. Cummings, who was smothered by center Rob Little and missed a reverse layup with four seconds left.

The ball squirted to the baseline, Cummings and Jason Kapono giving chase. Kapono's heave toward the basket came up short, the buzzer sounded and the Bruins were left only with a moral victory.

Which they savored.

"We played with passion," said Kapono, who scored 13 points. "Instead of beating ourselves, we just got beat."

On the other end of the momentum meter lies Stanford (13-5, 4-2), which finds ways to win much as UCLA finds ways to lose.

"We keep hanging in there," Cardinal Coach Mike Montgomery said. "We didn't have very good individual performances. Yet we still won."

Childress, a Lakewood product and lifelong friend of several Bruins, had 18 points and seven rebounds. The sophomore forward scored the last four Stanford points, converting a three-point play with 6:38 to play and making a free throw with 1:11 left.

In between, UCLA played stifling defense and whittled away at a 51-44 deficit. Cummings made his only two baskets of the game in the last 5:30.

But the confidence the Bruins displayed disappeared on their last few possessions.

"We couldn't come up with the big play," said forward Dijon Thompson, who scored 12 points on five-of-seven shooting.

It was the lowest point total in a Stanford victory at Maples, which opened in 1969.

And so much pointed to a UCLA victory for so long.

With his parents and friends sitting behind the Bruin bench, Coach Steve Lavin appeared particularly comfortable. During the last four home games -- all losses -- he mostly knelt next to the bench as if the players could shield him from catcalls.

Against Stanford he was on his feet, exhorting his team, screaming at the officials, exhibiting the same fire as the players.

"I felt the kids really played well, played hard for 40 minutes," Lavin said. "When you are playing [as poorly] as we've been, you look for any type of silver lining, something you can build on."

They might have to do it without Andre Patterson in the short term. Through this season of never-ending woe, the Bruins remained remarkably healthy. That changed less than two minutes into the game when the sophomore forward sprained an ankle.

Patterson, who leads the team in rebounding and field-goal percentage, tried to return late in the half but lasted only another minute before limping off.

Early on, it appeared the Bruins might reach a first-half scoring low for the fourth game in a row. They scored 23 against St. John's, 22 against Arizona State and 18 against Arizona.

But Janou Rubin, a walk-on who made three three-pointers against Arizona, hit another one to trim Stanford's largest lead to 20-14 with six minutes left in the half.

A late rally keyed by Bozeman and Thompson enabled UCLA to catch the Cardinal, 29-29, at halftime. Thompson made the last three baskets, one on an alley-oop pass from Walcott and the last one a putback at the buzzer.

The Cardinal exploited UCLA's lack of size inside by pounding the ball to post players Little and Joe Kirchofer, who combined for 10 points in the half and 16 in the game.

Kapono scored five quick points to begin the second half, putting UCLA ahead, 34-29. But Stanford came back and took a 35-34 lead on a basket by Childress. The rest of the game was a battle.

"Just sitting there watching," said Patterson, leaning on crutches, "it looked good seeing us compete. I'll tell you, it felt good to finally compete."

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