BERKELEY “”mdash; UCLA men’s basketball coach Ben Howland threw a man-to-man defense at California, a zone defense, a mix of the two and stopped just short of throwing the kitchen sink.
Nothing worked in the Golden Bears’ 85-69 blowout win Saturday at Haas Pavilion. The loss gave the preseason conference favorite Bruins (7-7, 0-2 Pac-12) their first two-loss start in conference play since the 1987-1988 season and put a damper on celebrating the new year.
“Everybody will be in their room asleep or watching film (tonight),” sophomore guard Tyler Lamb said.
UCLA was once again within one point at halftime, just as it was against Stanford two days earlier. That in itself was a small victory, as Cal (12-3, 2-0) had shot a scorching 68 percent from the field.
It was no surprise that the Bears continued their hot shooting in the second half. Five quick points forced a Howland timeout less than two minutes into the half. Coming out of the huddle, the Bruins immediately turned the ball over and the Bears rolled off five more unanswered.
“To be that close (at the half) we were fortunate,” redshirt sophomore forward David Wear said. “We knew coming out in the second half that we needed to really lock down on defense and focus. We just had some breakdowns and it was tough.”
Even tougher to figure out was omnipresent Bears guard Jorge Gutierrez.
In his only game against UCLA last season, the senior from Mexico had torn up the Bruins for 34 points at Haas Pavilion. The 6-foot-3 all-Pac-10 first-teamer from a season ago did more of the same Saturday, scoring 16 points while darting inside the paint, undaunted by UCLA’s massive front line. Gutierrez also had eight assists and two steals.
“He does what it takes to win,” said Lamb, who at times matched up with Gutierrez on both ends of the floor. “He doesn’t focus just on scoring. He’s going to go out there and play defense, get assists and steals, and he’s just an all-around team player.”
With senior guard Lazeric Jones coming off a career-high 26 points at Stanford on Thursday, Gutierrez was tabbed to stop the Bruins’ leading scorer. Jones shot just one-of-five from the field in the first half before leaving with an injured left ankle, the same one he hurt in practice early in the week.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery felt that Gutierrez neutralizing Jones was the key to the Bears’ defensive effort.
“Jorge sets the tone,” Montgomery said. “If he’s able to take the head of the snake out, it makes it difficult if they’re counting on a certain person to be a significant factor.”
Jones, who had five points on two-of-seven shooting, six assists and four turnovers, saw it a differently.
“He’s a good defender, but I didn’t want to force any shots,” Jones said. “You know when teams are scheming to stop you, and I didn’t want to force shots.”
Jones said he was comfortable deferring to the hot hand on the night, which was Lamb. Lamb had a career-night of his own, hitting his first five shots and finishing with 26 points, including five-of-seven 3-point shooting.
David Wear also set a career-high with 17 points. No other Bruin had more than eight.
UCLA kept up with Cal’s offensive firepower for a half but couldn’t sustain it for another 20 minutes. The Bears continued to hit shots, and the Bruins gave up their second-highest field-goal percentage of the season while the lead grew to as many as 24 points.
UCLA’s defense was its undoing no matter what scheme it was in, a problem that will have to be rectified before another top conference foe in Arizona comes to the Honda Center on Thursday.
“Whether it was man or zone, (the Bears) were pretty consistent,” Howland said. “They really executed and shot it well. … Our defense, it was the problem all day. (The Bears) just continued to score time after time.”