UCLA guard Jordan Adams is defended by San Diego State guard James Rahon. (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)
A county from home is not so far. A site listed as "neutral" shouldn't feel so foreign.
But the Bruins entered Anaheim's Honda Center on Saturday to find themselves hated villains.
San Diego State fans bathed the arena in red, flooding its lower levels, swamping its nosebleed seats. Its student section stood and roared throughout; the rest of its faithful screamed, pumping fists.
It marked the first time these freshmen-laden Bruins faced a ranked foe — the Aztecs were No. 23 — and the first time they played in any environment where the crowd was heavily against them.
UCLA failed these tests, losing 78-69 before 17,204 in the John R. Wooden Classic.
"It was hard to play out there," said UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, who had 16 points. "The crowd was a rough thing."
The Bruins (5-3) played zone defense for most of the game, and it worked to slow the Aztecs early.
But late, San Diego State (5-1) attacked the zone's main weakness: the three-point line.
And after hitting six of 12 shots from beyond the arc in the second half, the Aztecs pulled away.
"Our zone really got tortured," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
The Bruins did switch back to Howland's preferred defense — man-to-man — late, but it didn't work.
After runs of 8-0 and 11-2, the Aztecs had a double-digit lead, and UCLA was on life support.
Then, with 5 minutes 1 second left, Jamaal Franklin stole the ball from Muhammad and sprinted to a thunderous one-handed dunk that slammed the door shut on UCLA's chances.
Franklin had 28 to lead the Aztecs, and Xavier Thames added 19. Jordan Adams had 23 to lead UCLA.
A "We Run CALI" sign was held aloft in the Aztecs student section, and its true: The Aztecs have won a national-best 26 consecutive games against teams from this state.
"We are the best right now," Franklin said.
Howland, who said those numbers were impressive, didn't exactly agree.
"That's quite a big statement," he said. "There's a lot of good teams in the state."
For UCLA, a sour week that began with a loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and continued with two players leaving the team ended on the same sour note.
An upset win could have helped the Bruins rebound from a dysfunctional start to the season that saw them fall from No. 11 in the Associated Press poll to unranked after the Cal Poly loss.
Instead, it only served as a reminder of how far UCLA has to go.
Muhammad himself said his conditioning is far from where it needs to be.
"I'm not really comfortable out there still," he said.
San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher called UCLA a "very good team, a young team that will continue to get better."
Bruins fans can only hope.