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Turnovers are too much for UCLA to overcome

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

The Bruins turn the ball over 23 times but still hang close before falling to Stanford, 70-59.

January 10, 2010|By David Wharton

Reporting from Palo Alto — Focus on a particular moment from UCLA's slapstick Saturday afternoon.

An otherwise innocuous pass glances through guard Michael Roll's hands, the ball ricochets off his head and bounces out of bounds.

Now take that pratfall and multiply it by 23.

To say the Bruins let victory slip away would be an understatement, miscues adding up to a 70-59 loss at Stanford that would have been comical were it not so disheartening.

"Twenty-three turnovers are what kills us," Coach Ben Howland said. "That's way too many."

Or, just enough to sink UCLA to 7-9, 2-2 in Pacific 10 Conference play, and leave Howland sounding like the ultimate realist when looking ahead.

"The bottom line is, for us to be in the NCAA tournament, the only chance we have is to win the Pac-10 title in the tournament," Howland said.

Though that's hardly a groundbreaking statement, it underscores the state of an inconsistent team.

Roll, the usually reliable senior who contributed five giveaways, sounded equally frustrated.

"Just bad karma," he said. "I don't know what it was."

Saturday's game in front of 6,946 at Maples Pavilion began on a sunnier note, UCLA coming off an upset victory at California and hoping for a road sweep.

Stanford, hovering at .500 and picked to finish near the bottom of the conference, appeared vulnerable if the Bruins could manage two key issues.

First, they needed patience and outside shooting from Roll and Nikola Dragovic, who have become their offensive punch. Second, they needed to contain forward Landry Fields and guard Jeremy Green -- as those two go, so goes the Cardinal.

But the Bruins started sloppy and hurried, making only 25% of their shots and giving the ball away seven times in the first seven minutes.

They might have been thinking back a week to when they defeated Arizona State, then came out flat against a supposedly weaker Arizona. Maybe this time, after another big win, they were too eager.

"We were kind of amped before the game," center Reeves Nelson said.

But that doesn't explain what happened with Stanford's Green, who quickly sank a pair of jumpers, a harbinger of bad things to come.

As the minutes ticked by, the Bruins could not handle him in man-to-man defense and inexplicably left him untended in the zone.

Sometimes it didn't matter what they did.

"My adrenaline's flowing and I'm just caught up in the game," Green said, adding: "It was a good game."

Good as in 30 points, the highlight coming at the end of the first half as UCLA calmed down and forged a slim lead.

With time running out, Green hit a scrambling three-point bank shot against double coverage to give his team a 34-33 halftime lead.

The desperation shot might have dented UCLA's momentum, but this was still a winnable game.

With a combination of players heating up in the second half, making clutch shots, the Bruins were back to within a point in the final 10 minutes.

That's when the turnovers came back to haunt them.

With a chance to take the lead, an outmanned Lee pressed too hard down the lane and gave the ball up, one of several instances in which young UCLA players lacked the experience to gauge tempo and stay under control.

Instead, Stanford soon pulled away, adding another unexpected win to last week's upset of USC, improving to 8-7, 2-1 in conference.

"The turnovers at the end came because we were just trying to make things happen," said Lee, who ended up with seven.

So it didn't matter that the Bruins shot 55%, led by Dragovic's 13 points. Or that they won the battle on the boards, 30-25.

Those 23 turnovers translated into 25 points, and that was the difference.

"They made big shots off of it, scored every time it seemed like," Roll said. "We just dug ourselves a hole."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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