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UCLA's loss to Portland is a real drag

Bruins are sluggish from start to finish and are easily taken out of the 76 Classic game by the unbeaten Pilots.

November 27, 2009|By David Wharton
  • UCLA guard Jerime Anderson grabs a rebound from Portland forward Kramer Knutson in the first half Thursday night.
UCLA guard Jerime Anderson grabs a rebound from Portland forward Kramer… (Bret Hartman / For The Times )

There was no turkey dinner for the UCLA players this year.

With an evening tip-off in the 76 Classic, the Bruins did not want to get weighed down with mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie.

But they played as if they had seconds of everything.

Looking as sluggish as your Uncle Morris pushing away from the table, UCLA started slow and never recovered in a 74-47 loss to Portland at the Anaheim Convention Center on Thursday night.

"It really feels horrible," Coach Ben Howland said. "We're a long way from being a good team."

This defeat, the worst of Howland's tenure, came with embarrassing numbers, the Bruins shooting only 33% and committing 16 turnovers, and allowing Portland to make 54% of its shots.

Howland had warned anyone who would listen that this holiday tournament presented a challenge for his young, struggling team.

"I wanted us to get some early experience as we moved into the season," he had said earlier.

Maybe they got more than they bargained for.

Portland (4-0) arrived in Southern California undefeated and looking dangerous, picked to challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title.

Known for their perimeter shooting, the Pilots opened a quick lead with guards Nik Raivio and T.J. Campbell scoring from outside.

How bad was the first half for the Bruins? Worse than any overdose of tryptophan could explain.

They missed shots and stumbled on defense. Turnovers came in a variety of forms, with bad passes, traveling and a shot-clock violation.

It was an especially rough night for Nikola Dragovic, the senior forward who was reinstated after a two-game suspension despite the fact that he still faces an assault charge in connection with a fight at a Hollywood concert last month.

Dragovic entered the game at 14:02 and never seemed to find a rhythm, making only one of five shots and committing three turnovers.

His team trailed, 36-19, after the first 20 minutes, and if there were any thoughts of a comeback, they soon faded.

In one sequence, Portland missed a free throw but UCLA failed to block out, leaving forward Ethan Niedermeyer wide open to score on the offensive rebound.

Shortly thereafter, Portland forward Luke Sikma drove uncontested for a dunk.

To this point, the Bruins (2-2) have shown no ability to run their offense with any sort of consistency. Even more galling for a Howland team, they have struggled to pressure the ball or double-team on defense.

This shortcoming hurt the Bruins dearly as a trio of guards led Portland in scoring, Campbell and Jared Stohl with 15 points each, Raivio with 13.

By the time the Pilots cooled down near the end of the game, they had built a 31-point lead and were able to hold on down the stretch.

"As far as the game itself -- surprising," Portland Coach Eric Reveno said, adding of UCLA: "They're in transition early in the year."

Guard Malcolm Lee led the Bruins with 14 points and center Drew Gordon had 10 to go with four rebounds.

Things won't get any easier for the Bruins tonight.

With the loss, they slip into the losers' bracket and must play the late game -- tip-off around 9 p.m. -- against No. 12 Butler, which fell to No. 22 Minnesota in an earlier game Thursday.

"It has to start with the seniors," forward James Keefe said. "We've got to set the example."

Otherwise, UCLA could get a second helping of that early experience.

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