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UCLA misses out in upset loss

No. 4 Bruins struggle on both ends and ruin chance to play Duke in 2K Sports Classic final.

November 21, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

NEW YORK — Standing in a crowded hallway, somewhere deep inside Madison Square Garden, Ben Howland hurried his players outside and back toward their hotel.

It was past midnight, the UCLA coach in no mood to wait around.

"Early practice," he said.

Don't be surprised if the fourth-ranked Bruins get some extra work this morning, maybe some quick tutoring, after their 55-52 upset loss to Michigan on Thursday night.

The defeat ruined a much-anticipated final game for the 2K Sports Classic tournament, a matchup with 10th-ranked Duke. Instead, UCLA will face Southern Illinois in this afternoon's consolation game.

"A lot of people were looking forward to that matchup," UCLA forward James Keefe said of Duke. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way."

The Bruins lost because their offense stuttered in the second half against Michigan's 1-3-1 zone. They lost because -- more surprisingly -- their own defense could not cool the red-hot Wolverines, who shot 61% from the field after halftime.

"You have to be tough at this time of year," Michigan Coach John Beilein said, adding: "Mentally, I thought it was great how we just bounced back."

Though Michigan arrived in New York unranked, in the midst of a rebuilding process, this game represented a test for UCLA because of the way Beilein's teams play.

Patience and passing on offense. That difficult zone.

This week, Beilein had tried to downplay his defense, saying: "You just never know what the 1-3-1 is going to do. People can score 100 or people can have a difficult time."

He added: "So maybe we won't play it at all. Who knows?"

When these teams met last season, UCLA fell behind by eight points in the second half before storming back in the final minutes for a 69-54 victory. This time, the Bruins appeared to have things figured out, taking control through much of the first half.

Jrue Holiday, looking far too relaxed for a freshman in his third college game, knocked down an easy jump shot and followed with a three-pointer. He then showed some defensive moves, blocking two shots.

Keefe and Nikola Dragovic added points inside to stake UCLA to a six-point lead at halftime.

But, despite Beilein's joking around, the Wolverines stuck with their zone and it started to work in the second half.

"There were times where we weren't aggressive enough," UCLA guard Darren Collison said, "and then times where we were a little bit too aggressive."

While the Bruins looked indecisive for stretches, Michigan began to make the shots its best players had missed earlier. Guards Manny Harris and Stu Douglass, who ended up with 15 and 10 points, respectively, scored from outside to give their team the lead with about 16 minutes remaining.

From there, the game turned into a dogfight.

Holiday and Collison, tied for a team-high 13 points each, provided much of the offense. Center Alfred Aboya offered timely defense on a night when he drew about half a dozen fouls.

But Douglass made a three-point shot to put the Wolverines back in the lead and Aboya, despite all his good defense, got burned on a back cut for a costly dunk.

"You could see Alfred was exhausted," Howland said. "And he wasn't mentally sharp enough to remember to stay in line with that guy."

That guy -- Michigan forward DeShawn Sims -- ended up with a game-high 18 points as Michigan finished things off by making clutch free throws.

As with any loss, there were plenty of statistics for UCLA to ponder. They made only five of 11 from the line, and Howland did not like their 17 turnovers.

"It's early," he said. "I understand that we're a young team."

A team that he believes must continue to work at improving. Apparently starting this morning.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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