UCLA guard Norman Powell tries to score on a reverse layup against Drexel… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.
Bowing to the will of almighty television, the UCLA basketball team tipped off its season against Drexel at the relative witching hour of 9 p.m. on Friday.
The sparse crowd that showed up at Pauley Pavilion had to stay late and Drexel's fans — back in Philadelphia — could not even tune in until midnight.
Maybe that's why the No. 22 Bruins fell asleep in the second half, squandering a sizable lead and barely holding on for a 72-67 victory against an underdog opponent.
Coach Steve Alford must have seen it coming when, several days ago, he said his team was in for "a long day."
Sophomore guard Kyle Anderson led the way for UCLA with 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Just as important, Jordan Adams contributed clutch free throws at the end.
It also helped that Drexel missed a three-point shot in the final seconds.
"We knew this was going to be a tough opener," Alford said afterward. "The guys did a good job of hanging in there, fighting."
Bruin fans who chose to spend Friday night with some other diversion — or just turned in early — missed Alford's official debut in Westwood after two lopsided exhibition victories.
His team opened an early 11-point lead with some energetic play, turning defensive stops into fastbreak points. David Wear had two put-backs and a three-pointer in the first eight minutes.
Though Drexel stayed within striking range on the outside shooting of guard Frantz Massenat, who finished with a game-high 20 points, the Bruins kept finding ways to maintain the lead.
"We want people to watch us play," guard Norman Powell said this week. "But our main focus is getting the wins and getting better."
If it seemed odd that 22nd-ranked team in the nation would be relegated to basketball's version of not-ready-for-prime-time, UCLA officials were not entirely thrilled.
"When given a choice," said Josh Rupprecht, an associate athletic director, "we definitely prefer the seven o'clock hour."
Blame the Pac-12 Networks, which broadcast the game and said that it had little choice in the start time.
Since creating its network two years ago, the conference has vowed to get the entire men's basketball schedule on television. That means picking up 149 games that ESPN, CBS and other broadcasters don't want.
"We're accomplishing that," said Erik Hardenbergh, a Pac-12 vice president. "But it does require some flexibility."
The Pac-12 had to shoehorn seven Friday games onto its various national and regional networks. UCLA was not a good candidate for going early.
Think freeways at rush hour.
The Bruins tried to acclimate with a late practice and dinner last week. The players did not seem to mind.
"Whether it's at 5 o'clock or 10 o'clock, I feel like everybody will be ready to play," Powell said. "We're excited."
That excitement seemed to ebb when UCLA started the second half with a 42-31 lead. The Bruins, unable to generate much transition offense, missed a string of jumpers and freshman Zach LaVine blew a layup.
UCLA was relying too heavily on the outside shot and, with center Tony Parker in foul trouble, allowing Drexel into the paint. The Dragons closed to within four points on forward Kazembe Abif's offensive rebound and put-back with 10 minutes remaining.
If the Bruins are looking for a bright spot from this performance, their zone defense was effective at times, and they held together over the final two minutes, scoring when they needed to and denying Drexel the chance to tie.
Anderson, who recorded the ninth double-double of his college career, says he is "more of a nighttime guy," so he actually liked the late tipoff. The sophomore said his family would be watching the action live on the East Coast, no DVR required.
"They do a very good job of staying up," he said, "then sending me text messages of what I did wrong after the game."