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UCLA BASKETBALL

Bruins take (baby) steps forward in 71-52 win over Pepperdine

A week after shocking loss to Cal State Fullerton in season opener, UCLA gets its second straight win and exhibits at least a few signs of progress.

November 24, 2009|By David Wharton
  • Pepperdine's Corbin Moore tries to block a driving layup by UCLA guard Jerime Anderson in the first half Monday night.
Pepperdine's Corbin Moore tries to block a driving layup by UCLA guard… (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles…)

For now, at least, the UCLA basketball team will have to suffice with small improvements, glimmers of progress.

Baby steps.

Still looking to work their way back from a season-opening loss, the Bruins kept moving in the right direction with a 71-52 victory over Pepperdine on Monday night.

"I'm sure losing that game hurt everybody," Coach Ben Howland said of the opener. "It should hurt. And that's motivation."

Playing before another small crowd at Pauley Pavilion, his team finally showed hints of the pressure defense for which Howland's program has been known over the last few seasons.

The Bruins prevailed with better shooting from Malcolm Lee and Michael Roll, and with Drew Gordon's continued development at center.

"I think it's just that our team is starting to click," said Gordon, who scored 18 points. "I think everybody's starting to feel more confident on the floor."

The Waves (1-3) are a rebuilding project under Coach Tom Asbury, their lone victory this season coming against Cal State San Bernardino

Howland expected to face a young but athletic opponent that might reach as deep as 10 players down the bench.

The Bruins (2-1) wanted to pay particular attention to defending the wings against guard Keion Bell, who entered the game averaging 21 points, and forward Mychel Thompson, son of the former Laker.

Toward that end, UCLA came out pressuring Bell into an early turnover, Gordon jumping out to block a Thompson jumper on the perimeter.

It took a while for the offense to get moving -- again, the Bruins seemed confused about how to attack a zone defense.

But Gordon and Lee eventually found a rhythm and, when forward James Keefe flashed to the high post and hit a jumper, UCLA led, 28-20, after the first half.

That lead stretched to 11 points early in the second half and only a flurry of plays by Bell, on his way to 22 points, kept the Waves within striking distance.

Pepperdine inched back but only for a while, eventually falling by the wayside as Gordon, Roll (17) and Lee (13) combined for 48 points.

The Bruins shot 54% from the field and made 87% of their free throws.

"Teams are definitely going to have trouble covering all three of us," Roll said. "We all had open shots."

Still, the Bruins have plenty of room for improvement.

They have yet to enforce their will on the boards, allowing Pepperdine to stay even in rebounds.

And another concern -- point guard Jerime Anderson missed most of the second half because of cramps, prompting Howland to say: "We're going to force bananas down his throat every meal."

Anderson's absence forced the thin UCLA backcourt to go with former walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, who responded with 10 points.

But now the learning curve gets significantly steeper in the 76 Classic tournament at Anaheim Convention Center over the Thanksgiving holiday.

First up? A Portland squad that recently upset wobbly Oregon.

"Day by day we're going to get better," Gordon said. "We'll see where that takes us."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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