Saturday, September 23

UCLA loses to Portland in 76 Classic, 74-47

Those who thought they had seen the worst of UCLA’s basketball season were rudely awakened from their Thanksgiving daze to just how low it could get for this team.

Sophomore forward Drew Gordon shrugged his shoulders as he walked off the court. His point guard classmate Jerime Anderson was already shaking his head on the bench, having fouled out with seven minutes left in the game. Coach Ben Howland just nodded.

Frankly, it was that kind of night for the Bruins and these just don’t come very often for the blue and gold.

Taking on an upstart Portland (4-0) team in the first round of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, UCLA (2-2) lost long before the final score showed 74-47.

“We really have some soul searching to do,” Howland said. “We haven’t had a game like that since my first year here.”

Points-wise the game was more lopsided than any defeat for the Bruins during Howland’s tenure. UCLA had not lost by that much since Steve Lavin’s final season, a 31-point drubbing by Oregon in 2003.

In front of a sparsely filled Anaheim Convention Center late Thursday evening, the Pilots outshot, outrebounded and outhustled the Bruins. Many of the UCLA fans who did attend the game had left by the middle of the second half.

“It was really frustrating to see us perform that way, especially in our own backyard,” senior forward James Keefe said. “(Portland) came out and they were the aggressor. Hats off to them.”

The same woes that plagued the Bruins in their opening-night loss all came flooding back ““ the team made just 18 shots, a season low ““ but there was more.

UCLA’s defense was virtually absent, allowing Portland to make 11 of its 19 shots from beyond the arc and giving up 21 points off turnovers. The signature lock-down defensive squads of Howland’s past were a forgotten memory.

“Since I’ve been here, that’s what we’ve tried to build with, to be a good defensive team,” Howland said. “We didn’t look anything like that.”

Senior guard Michael Roll, who has been a large part of the Bruins’ offense this season, missed all four of his three-point shots.

Returning to the court for the first time since his two-game suspension for a felony assault charge, Nikola Dragovic shot just one for five with three turnovers in 22 minutes. The senior forward who impressed last season with his fair share of offensive flashes has yet to find any rhythm in his new year.

In contrast, three Pilot guards scored in double figures, including 13 points and five assists from All-West Coast Conference senior Nik Raivio.

“It was like throwing rocks in the ocean out there,” Raivio said. Portland shot six for eight from long range in the first half to jump out to a 36-19 lead at the break.

Gordon had arguably the best defensive game for the Bruins, but still only managed a season-low four rebounds. When he was asked to give a reason for UCLA’s performance, the usually outspoken forward was at a complete loss for words.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to find out.”

UCLA must start that search immediately if it wants any chance to be competitive against No. 10 Butler, the team’s opponent for an 8:30 p.m. tip on Friday in the consolation semifinals. The Bulldogs lost, 82-73, to the No. 16 Minnesota Golden Gophers in a tight first round matchup.

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