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Long Beach State could give UCLA a long day in 76 Classic

The Bruins expect a tough test from a hard-nosed 49ers team that caused problems for No. 19 Clemson.

November 29, 2009|By David Wharton

Go back through the record book -- there were plenty of seasons when UCLA might not have seen Long Beach State as a threat.

Seasons when the Bruins stepped on court against the 49ers undefeated, maybe nationally ranked, picked to win easily.

This isn't one of those seasons.

When the teams meet this morning on the final day of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center, UCLA will be trying to end a two-game losing streak, scrambling to get back to .500.

"We've got our hands full," Coach Ben Howland said. "We know that."

The 49ers garnered respect against No. 19 Clemson on Friday, trailing by a point with under nine minutes remaining before losing, 87-79.

Sophomore guard Casper Ware played especially well, handling the ball against a pressure defense, recording 20 points and a career-high 10 assists.

"They are a hard-nosed team," Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell said. "We had chances to ice the game and they kept clawing back."

UCLA had an even closer game against a Top 25 opponent on Friday, losing in the final second to No. 12 Butler. The Bruins figure they will need a similar effort today.

"Definitely the intensity," guard Michael Roll said. "Come out and bring it from the tip."

Title game

Portland, the team that defeated UCLA to start the 76 Classic, has continued to impress, sweeping past No. 22 Minnesota to reach tonight's title game against No. 8 West Virginia.

Guard T.J. Campbell scored a game-high 23 points in the victory, a night after hurting UCLA with 15.

The Pilots, expected to challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title this season, are hoping to draw some attention from their unexpected victories in Anaheim.

"It's nice to see us finally battling and winning against some solid teams," forward Robin Smeulders said. "It wouldn't surprise me one bit if we were ranked after this tournament."

New guys

The Bruins can take some encouragement from the performance of their freshmen along the front line.

"The young, big guys hurt us," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said. "Those guys are good players."

Forward Reeves Nelson made four of seven shots for nine points and grabbed five rebounds. Brendan Lane contributed a pair of three-point plays to keep the score close in the first half.

Mike Moser recorded three points, two rebounds and a steal in eight minutes.

Among the few seniors on the roster, Roll is looking forward to logging more time with the newcomers.

"When we get to playing with each other more and more, we'll be executing better, finding out how everybody wants to play and their tendencies," he said. "We'll definitely be improving."

Charity stripe

The Bruins made 43% of their free throws against Portland, improving to 59% against Butler. Neither of those statistics impressed Howland.

After the Butler loss, he said: "You look at the game, we make some foul shots, we have an opportunity to win."

So the players were scheduled to spend a portion of their off-day on Saturday practicing from the free-throw line.

"We're going to continue to work on that," Howland said. "We have to do better."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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