This loss hurts.
How else can you describe a game where a first place team, going for a Pac-12 championship, loses to a team that entering Wednesday night had not only won but two conference games and was playing out the string in the grand tradition of “Wait ‘Til Next Year”, but who was short-handed to boot as two of their leading scorers were out with injuries?
And on top of all of that, this was the first loss for this now-second place team in the home of the winning squad in 20 years!
That was the situation as UCLA’s Bruins went into Pullman, WA and had the Pac-12′s worst team, the Washington State Cougars – in a manner reminiscent of Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson – score 25 of the game’s first 29 points, effectively putting the game away right them and there in the Cougars’ 73-61 win before a Wazzu crowd that was reportedly so scarce, there weren’t enough fans to rush the court after this upset.
The phrase “Playing The Spoiler” definitely applied here.
Ben Howland’s seat temperature was raised several degrees with this fiasco, in which Washington State’s rebounding totals doubled UCLA’s, 46-23, and the Bruins, going up against WSU’s zone defense, shot just 38% for – well, I can’t really call this a game as this train wreck was clearly the worst loss of the season for UCLA, worse than USC’s or Cal Poly’s.
And it couldn’t have come at a worse time; not only because the Pac-12 title is very much at stake, but also because Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament is coming very soon, and this crappy effort promises to loom quite large to the selection committee.
“We’re not dominant enough to just show up,” Howland said after the disaster mercifully ended. “We’ve got to show up ready to roll,” he added, stating the obvious.
To be fair, the Bruins did manage to cut the 11-point halftime deficit to six early in the second half before the roof fell in, Washington State making mincemeat of UCLA on the offensive boards as they doubled up on the Bruins there, too, 21-10.
Jordan Adams was the big bright spot for Howland’s team as he had 18 points on six-of-12 shooting, and Norman Powell did well in coming off the bench as he hit four of his six shots for ten points.
But in a case of adding salt to the wounds, Travis Wear reinjured his right foot during the game.
Meanwhile Brock Motum, the Cougars’ biggest name, led everybody with 20 points. Motum’s 11 rebounds – six on the offensive side – tied for the top with his teammate, Dexter Kernich-Drew, who like Motum had a double-double with his 11 points.
Luckily, Cal’s loss to Stanford kept the Bruins in second place, a half-game behind Oregon with only a match with the Washington Huskies in Seattle remaining.
It’s crystal clear what this team needs to do now – play 100,000% better than they did against Washington State and somehow find a a way to beat Washington at their place, where they haven’t won since 2004.
Considering they this UCLA squad barely beat those Huskies in Pauley Pavilion on a last-second shot in February, I’ll be honest:
Rebounding from this disgusting loss will be a difficult task.
Washington Huskies, Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle, WA – Saturday, March 9, 11:00 a.m.
TV: KCBS Channel 2