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UCLA 89, NOTRE DAME 63

Bruins send Irish packing early

Alfred Aboya contributes a game-high 19 points for UCLA in a nationally televised game that starts at 10 a.m. at Pauley Pavilion.

February 08, 2009|David Wharton

Maybe the most important number in UCLA's basketball game against Notre Dame on Saturday had nothing to do with points or rebounds, polls or RPI rankings.

Maybe it was 10.

As in 10 o'clock in the morning -- the unusually early tipoff for a nationally televised game.

Taking the court well before noon gave the 15th-ranked Bruins a big audience for their 89-63 victory over the Irish at Pauley Pavilion.

Timing matters to a team that hopes to burnish its image after some high-profile loses this season. And if this was a statement game, Coach Ben Howland wasn't afraid to say the words.

"If we continue to play relatively the same way we're playing now, we are definitely one of the best teams in the country," he said. "We're playing right now how we were ranked going into the season, which is a top-five team."

Coach Mike Brey, who has seen plenty of top-ranked teams in the powerful Big East Conference, did not argue.

"They are up there with any other team in our league," Brey said. "Their speed, size and strength match the top teams in our conference."

The question remains: How much will a victory over the Irish, who have skidded down the rankings with seven consecutive losses, ultimately help UCLA when it comes to the RPI and Associated Press poll?

On Saturday, Howland and the players seemed content with the symbolic value.

Four Bruins scored in double figures, led by center Alfred Aboya, who continued his recent hot streak with a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds. The team shot nearly 57%, many of those baskets coming in the paint and on fastbreaks.

UCLA held Notre Dame to less than 40% shooting and sent Luke Harangody to the bench for the final minutes with five points. That would be the same Harangody who began the game as one of the top scorers in in the nation.

"They just played defense for 40 minutes and just took it away from us," Brey said.

The Bruins (19-4) set the tempo early when Nikola Dragovic blocked Harangody's dunk try, a play that shook the drowsiness out of Pauley Pavilion.

Shortly thereafter, UCLA double-teamed Harangody, which can be a risky proposition. The 6-foot-8 forward is an adept passer and has burned more than one opponent kicking the ball to an outside shooter.

But this time, Dragovic and Aboya forced him to lob a weak pass toward half court. Guard Jrue Holiday made the steal, took off on the transition and floated a pass that Josh Shipp dunked with one hand.

With the Irish (12-10) shut down, Aboya made his short jump shots and Dragovic was perfect from outside to help UCLA build a 46-30 halftime lead.

"This game for us was like a measuring stick," Aboya said. "I think we can compete with the best."

The Bruins wasted no time putting Notre Dame away. Guard Darren Collison provided three-point shooting and a fastbreak dunk off yet another block. When swingman Michael Roll drove for a basket with 8 minutes 13 seconds remaining, the lead stretched to 33 points.

Now UCLA, coming off a tough loss at Washington last month, has four consecutive blowout victories and a newfound confidence that will be put to the test this week.

On Thursday, the Bruins travel to Arizona State, the only other Pacific 10 Conference team to defeat them this season. Then comes another nationally broadcast game at Arizona with another 10 a.m. tipoff Saturday.

If nothing else, the experience with Notre Dame might help.

The night before the game, the players shut themselves away in their rooms at the team hotel. Aboya was in bed by 9 p.m., though he stayed awake watching a movie. Holiday said he went to sleep around 8:30.

Forget the rankings and the RPI. The Bruins saw other significance to winning.

"Everybody's going to be looking at us," Collison said. "To see what we're going to put on our resume."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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