Ryan Menezes

BERKELEY, Calif. — Ben Howland couldn’t settle on a single metaphor.

The Bruins “fell down” to start and it kept “avalanching further and further” as the Bears ran away with the game.

“It just spirals into a bigger snowball,” Howland added.

Bonus points for mixing unrelated descriptions, Coach. Your point is understood, though. All of the above applied to the way UCLA lost in an 76-63 blowout to Cal Thursday night.

It only went to show that the climb to the top of the Pac-12 is paved with obstacles. A climb that happens to be uphill both ways.

UCLA went through the first part of the conference season 8-3. The Bruins were tied for first place going into Thursday; finishing there will be much more difficult. It started here Thursday night with a complete stinker.

The first time these two teams met, the Bruins left Pauley Pavilion with a comfortable 14-point win. The second time around was almost a 180-degree turn.

A UCLA team that prides itself on being able to outscore opponents took nearly 20 minutes to get 20 points. By the time halftime rolled around, its up-tempo offense had barely made a cameo and the Bruins were down by 25.

Their defense had just as much luck.

Allen Crabbe, the Bears’ best scorer, had the third-most points on the team. Instead, Cal did its work with its starting frontcourt. Richard Solomon had 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds. Fellow forward David Kravish scored 18 on 8-of-11 shooting and pulled down 13 boards himself.

The wiry thin 6-foot-9-inch Kravish and similarly slender 6-foot-10-inch Solomon didn’t have a huge size advantage on the 6-foot-10-inch Wear twins, Travis and David. Yet the Bears were the ones playing more physical basketball.

All season, UCLA has been sending a double-team every time an opposing player touches the ball with his back to the basket in the post. It’s a strategy designed to create havoc around the big man and force a turnover, one that didn’t work on Thursday.

With UCLA’s strategy in mind, Kravish and Solomon felt out the double-team every time it came, knowing when to pass and when to attack.

Cal knew UCLA’s game plan, like every team will for the rest of the season.

“(Opposing) coaches are ready for you so that’s why we really have to start playing hard,” said Shabazz Muhammad. “If we don’t play hard, we’re going to have more losses like this.”

What doesn’t help this young Bruins team is that their remaining schedule is road-heavy. During this closing stretch of rematches, the Bruins play five of their last seven games away from Pauley: They are in the Bay Area this week, at USC next week, at home against the Arizona schools and on the road in Washington to close out the regular season.

On the road, the Bruins aren’t going to get the calls they would be more likely to get at home. That was evident Thursday night, when they didn’t get to the free-throw line once in the first half.

“We thought we should have got a couple foul calls that should have been called for free throws, but they didn’t give it to us on the road so we really can’t complain,” said Jordan Adams.

That was only a small part of the slow start Howland described. While he tries to find the right words, he’ll also have to find a way to scheme back against the teams that have figured out UCLA.

Email Menezes at rmenezes@media.ucla.edu or tweet at @ryanvmenezes.