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A Shaky Victory for Bruins

December 01, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Outrebounded almost always, outhustled too often, faked out of their shoes more than once and trailing a team midway through the second half that was 6-21 a year ago, UCLA did not take a step forward Tuesday night.

But the shaky Bruins (4-0) with the help of 25 points from senior Dijon Thompson and perfect seven-for-seven shooting and 21 points from freshman guard Arron Afflalo, managed to beat Long Beach State, 75-62, in front of 6,211 at Pauley Pavilion.

Thompson, the senior forward who auditioned for the NBA last summer before learning he was considered a second-round draft pick, was only a point short of his career scoring high.

But Thompson had only five rebounds against the 49ers, which equaled his turnovers.

About 30 minutes after the game, after he declined to talk to the media, Thompson walked under the stands deep in conversation with an animated Coach Ben Howland.

"Dijon did a good job of getting to the foul line," Howland said. Thompson was 11 of 12 at the line, but that sounded like perfunctory praise. Howland was more forceful when he noted that Thompson was calling for the ball with three minutes to go and UCLA trying to protect its tenuous lead.

"We're still learning how to play with a lead in that situation," Howland said after pointedly mentioning Thompson's eager request for the ball.

There were so many mistakes, careless passes and clumsy fouls committed that this wasn't a satisfying victory.

Long Beach State Coach Larry Reynolds said, "For 33 minutes we played pretty good basketball."

While the 49ers were terrible from three-point range -- one for 17 -- they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. Overall the Bruins were outrebounded by six, 32-26, and their two 7-footers -- Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey -- combined for four rebounds, four turnovers and 10 points.

"We did a better job of boxing out in our first exhibition game than we did tonight," Howland said.

"We continued to have slippage in that area."

It took the Bruins about 10 minutes to make their 10-point lead disappear in the first half. Their 15-point halftime lead? Gone in less than eight minutes.

Layups came easily for the 49ers. Bruin point guard Jordan Farmar, celebrating his 18th birthday, had a few lazy passes transform into easy points for the other team.

The quick starts for the Bruins at the beginning of each half were a mixture of jump shots in the lane, layups and long-range swishers.

But just as the Pauley fans would get exuberant, the Bruins would take a pause.

They would forget about defense, ignore rebounding and collide with each other while trying to find offensive spacing.

Over a stultifying 10-minute span in the first half, UCLA was outscored 17-4 and fell behind 19-16. The 49ers had five shots of four feet or less in that period.

Against a stronger opponent, the Bruins might have found themselves well out of the game.

As if Howland were a hypnotist, though, he snapped his fingers and the Bruins began moving their feet on defense, positioning themselves for rebounds and running fastbreaks that took advantage of their athleticism.

By halftime UCLA was up, 38-23, its biggest first-half advantage of the season.

Somebody snapped his fingers again. The wrong fingers. Because the 49ers outscored UCLA, 28-10, in the first nine minutes of the second half. When reserve Tony Bryant made a free throw after using his dribble to beat Josh Shipp to the basket and getting fouled, Long Beach led, 51-48.

"That shouldn't happen," Afflalo said. "I was thinking that we can't lose to a team like this."

They didn't.

Not this time.

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