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NO. 12 BUTLER 69, UCLA 67

UCLA is lively against Butler but loses

Bruins' defense rebounds but offense is slow to follow in a 69-67 loss to the No. 12 Bulldogs.

November 28, 2009|By David Wharton
  • UCLA's Drew Gordon drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward in the first half on Friday night.
UCLA's Drew Gordon drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The "to-do" list that Ben Howland presented to his players was not complicated.

With his team returning to the court barely 24 hours after an embarrassing loss the second of a painfully new season the UCLA coach wanted to see improvement at a basic level.

"Diving on the floor, taking charges, winning the battle on the boards," he said. "Doing the gritty little things."

Consider the job done. Almost.

The Bruins showed considerably more scrap against No. 12 Butler on Friday night, but still fell short by a pair of free throws, 69-67, in a Friday night game in the 76 Classic tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Butler's Gordon Hayward made the deciding play, fouled on the way to the basket, sinking both his shots from the line with 0.6 seconds remaining.

"It was unfortunate that we gave up that last shot," Howland said. "It's just disappointing to have a great effort like that and come up short."

The coach insisted that officials did not decide the game. Guard Michael Roll called for the foul said: "The ref said I held his arm. I haven't seen the film so I'm not sure."

Hayward's heroics spoiled a night when UCLA sophomore Drew Gordon set the tone early, battling in the paint.

As the game wore on, Gordon got help from his teammates, Nikola Dragovic shaking off the rust of a two-game suspension to lead his team with 14 points and sophomore Malcolm Lee adding 11.

They were outshone by Butler's Shelvin Mack, who scored 21 to lead all scorers.

Early on, the Bulldogs (4-1) pulled ahead with a more-efficient offense. First came the outside shot, a string of three-pointers that eventually seemed to open the inside, and then some easy baskets in transition.

Mack single-handedly accounted for a 9-2 run that gave his team a seven-point halftime cushion.

If nothing else, the Bruins (2-3) might have come into this game feeling comforted that Portland, the team that defeated them 74-47 on Thursday, had fought its way into Sunday's title game.

Still, that debacle was the most lopsided of Howland's tenure and the program's worst outing since a 31-point loss at Oregon in 2003, shifting what had seemed like an uncertain season into the territory of a full-fledged rebuilding process.

Or, as Howland put it, "back to square one."

The players, who gathered for a meeting after that game, realized what was at stake against Butler, senior forward James Keefe calling it a "must win."

"I mean it's early in the season," he said beforehand. "But having back-to-back losses is not how we want to start."

Keefe also had an idea or two about what needed to be done on a young team.

"Really, the seniors are going to have to step up," he said. "And hopefully it'll work its way down."

The Bruins had struggled attacking zone defenses but that problem was solved when Butler came out playing man to man early.

So UCLA was left to work on transition defense, which did not go so well, and establishing a post presence thanks to Gordon's efforts.

The hard work continued into the second half, freshman Reeves Nelson wrestling inside, Gordon gaining position for a dunk, Keefe and Dragovic diving for loose balls just like their coach wanted.

The defense grew more aggressive, too, forcing Butler outside where suddenly the shots weren't falling as consistently as before.

But Gordon fouled out with 5:53 remaining and UCLA suffered a few critical offensive fouls. Butler's final points were fitting the Bulldogs held a 33-17 edge from the free-throw line.

"I was just trying to do anything I could to get our team the win," Hayward said of his final two. "Just trying to take it down the floor and get to the basket."

UCLA still has one more 76 Classic game on Sunday against Long Beach State. Then come tough dates against No. 1 Kansas and Mississippi State.

"Obviously we're disappointed to lose and that's frustrating," Howland said. "But we've got to learn from the mistakes we're making."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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