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It could be open season on Bruins : UCLA loses opener in two overtimes, doing little to refute notion that young team may be in for a long winter. / CS FULLERTON 68 UCLA 65 (2 OT)

November 17, 2009|David Wharton

Gazing into the future -- looking at what could be a very long season -- James Keefe offered his UCLA teammates a warning.

"We can't take nights off," the veteran forward said. "We don't have the skill or the players to walk through games."

Not with a young team that has yet to find any sort of offensive rhythm. Or exert its presence on the boards. Or comprehend Coach Ben Howland's brand of defense.

So it makes sense that the Bruins had a struggle on their hands against Cal State Fullerton in the season opener at Pauley Pavilion on Monday night, losing, 68-65, in double overtime.

The Titans figured to be a test for the opener. Though they had lost their leading scorer from last season, Josh Akognon, they featured talented Division I transfers such as Orane Chin and Jer'Vaughn Johnson.

They also brought Jacques Streeter, an All-Big West freshman at point guard last season.

"An athlete who's going to be a problem," Howland called him. "He does a very good job of getting to the basket."

The UCLA guards did just enough to keep Streeter bottled up, at least early, limiting him to four points and no assists in the first half.

But, for UCLA, this first game wasn't just about matching up with the Titans.

After exhibition victories over Concordia and Humboldt State that fell somewhere short of confidence-inspiring, Howland was looking for immediate improvement in specific areas.

The coach installed double teams in the post and on screens late last week, hoping to shore up the defense, and wanted more effort around the basket.

"We obviously have to do a better job rebounding," he said.

In particular, the Bruins failed to pull down a single offensive rebound during the first half against Humboldt State last week.

"I'm pretty sure that we just need to crash the boards harder," Drew Gordon said in something of an understatement.

It was hardly an explosive start for the Bruins, who missed 11 of their first 14 shots.

Gordon tried to make good on that part about crashing the boards, grabbing four quick rebounds, and the defense -- along with some sloppy Fullerton turnovers -- kept UCLA in the game.

After Keefe forced his way inside for two points, the score was tied 23-23.

But Fullerton pulled away in the final minutes of the first half, taking a 33-27 lead into the locker room.

The game had started at an unusually late hour to fit into the opening slot for ESPN's broadcast marathon, a dozen consecutive games strung over 24 hours, a basketball journey winding through Hawaii before heading back to the East Coast.

It might have been too late, too Monday, too something for the UCLA crowd; Pauley Pavilion was far less than half full. Official attendance was 6,145.

They had plenty to boo about in the early minutes of the second half as senior Nikola Dragovic continued to throw up long shots that missed the mark and Fullerton seemed to grow more confident.

Johnson led the way with a pair of buckets, pushing Fullerton's lead to 10 points.

But when Michael Roll made a pair of free throws, the Bruins had pulled back to within five points with 13:23 remaining, the start of a 9-0 run that included two big scores by freshman Nelson Reeves.

Suddenly the defense looked quicker, the rebounding stronger, and Roll hit a pair of three-point shots to tie the score with 5:40 remaining.

Everyone contributed in the final minutes of regulation -- Malcolm Lee with a three-pointer, Jerime Anderson with a layup, Gordon with a dunk. But when Roll missed the front end of a one-and-one, Fullerton had just enough time for a Streeter free throw to tie the score and force overtime.

On a night when neither team came close to shooting 50%, both extra periods were relatively sluggish affairs, UCLA missing three-point attempts and Fullerton turning the ball over.

Finally, the Titans made a few clutch baskets, easing ahead.

Roll and Lee each scored 17 points. Aaron Thompson had a career-high 22 for Fullerton.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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