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Bruins stop and go in an easy win

Fueled by its defense, No. 16 UCLA rolls up fastbreak points to beat the Blue Demons in the Wooden Classic.

December 14, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

The last few weeks, UCLA basketball players have talked about glimpses of the future, moments during practice when their team shows how good it can be.

Some of those glimpses made it to the court Saturday afternoon.

The Bruins displayed an ability to attack the zone defense with patience and crisp passing. They ran the court in transition, making easy baskets.

And, as Coach Ben Howland was quick to point out, "It all starts with good defense."

Maybe it isn't hard to show improvement against a team such as DePaul, which has lost four in a row, but after some rough spots in the early season, 16th-ranked UCLA seemed more than content with a 72-54 victory in the Wooden Classic at the Honda Center.

"It's kind of fun," forward Josh Shipp said. "Everybody's unselfish. We don't care who gets the points."

Shipp and freshman guard Jrue Holiday tied with a game-high 14. Guard Darren Collison and forward Nikola Dragovic, coming off the bench, had 10 each.

Moreover, the Bruins (6-2) held DePaul to 41.3% shooting with an effort that gave their coach his 300th victory in a career that has included stops at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh.

"They have terrific team speed," DePaul Coach Jerry Wainwright said of Howland's current squad. "That's the thing that really stands out."

With college bowl season fast approaching, Wainwright resorted to a football analogy. After watching the Bruins score 16 fastbreak points, he said they looked less like the typical blue-collar Howland team and more like a West Coast offense.

"They convert mistakes into points very quickly," he said. "I think Coach Howland is smart enough to know that these kids will probably be better if they get out and go."

The Blue Demons (4-4) helped start some of those transitions with subpar shooting and 13 turnovers. Their top scorer, forward Dar Tucker, got fewer minutes than normal because of an unspecified team violation, and made only three of 13 shots for 11 points.

Holiday spent much of the afternoon chasing Tucker around the court and seemed to like the challenge of guarding the opponent's best player.

"I think that's what kind of motivated me," he said. "That got my juices going."

During one series of possessions late in the first half, he forced the DePaul star into a pair of long-range misses, then stepped in front of a pass and started a fastbreak that ended with an assist to Collison.

In that stretch of minutes, the Bruins used defense to build a 35-19 halftime lead.

"Every time I got the ball," DePaul center Mac Koshwal said, "I got double-teamed or I had a great defender on me."

It was more of the same in the second half as Holiday started with a three-pointer and Shipp followed with two quick baskets.

In those instances when the Bruins could not run, they got good ball movement around the perimeter of DePaul's zone, penetrating at times, occasionally finding open cutters with the pass, making 55.2% of their shots.

Shipp said an earlier loss against Michigan "opened our eyes and we felt like we needed to work on our zone offense. We've been doing it every day since."

Howland liked the fact that his team had 19 assists against 58 shot attempts, among other things. He thought that his players looked sharp despite a week of final exams back at school. He praised Dragovic for drawing a rare charge.

"I don't know why everybody's making a big deal out of it," Dragovic protested.

Maybe because this team, still searching for an identity, had slipped a ways from its No. 4 preseason ranking.

With a much rougher conference schedule beginning next month, the Bruins seem to be looking for improvement wherever they can find it.



UCLA up next

Wednesday vs. Loyola Marymount, 8 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Prime Ticket: The Bruins settle in for the first of four home games before the Pacific 10 Conference schedule begins. They will face a Loyola Marymount team that fell to 0-9 after Saturday night's 81-61 loss to UC Santa Barbara.

-- David Wharton

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