LAHAINA, Hawaii “”mdash; One of the most popular tourist activities in Hawaii is hiking. Tuesday, UCLA picked a wrong time to do just that.
The Bruins got off to a shaky start and gave themselves too much of a deficit to overcome, a valiant comeback coming up short in a 72-56 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in the semifinals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
“It’s difficult to get over that hill,” UCLA senior point guard Jerime Anderson said. “I’m inspired by our comeback, but we need to put ourselves in a better position to win the game.”
UCLA (1-3) appeared overwhelmed at times in the first half against No. 14 Kansas (3-1).
The Jayhawks built a 43-26 lead after 20 minutes and stretched the lead to 20 on the first possession of the second half.
The Bruins inserted sophomore center Joshua Smith into the starting lineup, hoping to get a lift, but to no avail.
Smith eventually fouled out and finished the game with just one point and one rebound.
“We got off to a terrible start,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “They doubled (Smith), and that hurt him.”
With Kansas threatening to turn the game into a rout early in the second half, Howland went to a lineup of Reeves Nelson, the Wear twins, Tyler Lamb and Anderson.
For a while, he was able to bottle some of that Hawaiian lightning.
That group keyed a 21-6 run that cut Kansas’s lead to 57-52 with just more than seven minutes to go; Lamb missed a transition 3-pointer that could have trimmed the margin all the way down to two.
The Bruins never got closer than that, as Kansas would eventually close the game out on an 11-0 run.
“I was really happy the way guys fought back in the second half,” Howland said. “I think we ran out of gas.”
UCLA’s run was keyed by hot shooting from the trio of Nelson, Anderson and Lamb, the latter two making a number of big 3s for the second consecutive night.
The trio combined for 41 points, with 8-of-11 shooting from 3-point territory.
Still, the strength of this team is supposed to be its size, and the Bruins made just eight field goals from inside the arc.
“We’ve got to get more inside scoring,” Howland said.
“We’ve got to get more of a presence inside and do a better job there.”
Most importantly, UCLA needs to do a better job of starting the game off on the right foot.
Starting slow did not end up costing UCLA against Chaminade on Monday night ““ when UCLA turned what was merely a two-point game at halftime into a rout ““ but it certainly did on Tuesday night.
UCLA will face another well-coached, crisply executing team in Michigan in today’s consolation contest.
A third consecutive slow start could spell trouble once again.
“I just think it’s within ourselves,” Lamb said.