Archive for Friday, November 29, 2002

Lavin to blame for Bruins’ shame

November 29, 2002


— They used to gather at the start of every basketball season to raise banners at Pauley Pavilion.

Now they just gather to raise doubts.

Steve Lavin's many critics had a grand, old time again on opening night Tuesday, watching UCLA stagger its way to yet another embarrassing loss, this time to a modestly talented University of San Diego team, 86-81 in overtime.

No, this wasn't exactly the warm-up the Bruins had in mind on their way to playing Duke on Saturday and Kansas later this month.

This was another of those November nightmare games, the kind for which Lavin is becoming famous.

"I thought we played well in stretches," Lavin said. "But it's still not good enough. It's still a work in progress. Still a long way to go."

A long way to go? It is difficult to remember a UCLA team that had a longer way to go. The Bruins' main problem is a hole in the middle.

The Bruins made the Toreros' 6-foot-10, 270-pound center Jason Keep look more like Shaq. A nice enough player with some decent post moves, Keep is not to be confused with someone like, say, Nick Collison of Kansas.

But he practically overpowered Lavin's puny group all by himself, finishing with 30 points and 16 rebounds.

"Oh yeah, the big guy, he's a force," Lavin said.

Jason Blair, a 6-foot-7 forward, wasn't too bad himself, finishing with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

Neither would have been as overwhelming if UCLA had someone, or anyone, capable of playing full time in the middle. Terry Cummings is a 6-foot-9 power forward masquerading as a center.

Josiah Johnson, another forward type, was his main backup. Freshman 7-footer Michael Fey only played three minutes, which either means he is not good enough to play at this level yet, or Lavin still doesn't have confidence in him.

Either way, things look ugly down low for this team.

There were some encouraging signs elsewhere, like point guard Cedric Bozeman's improvement as an outside shooter and forward Dijon Thompson's ability to create his own shot.

But Jason Kapono, the Bruins' best player, couldn't make the clutch shots down the stretch, especially in overtime.

And it was USD, not UCLA, that had more poise and composure in the extra period.

Give Brad Holland, the ex-UCLA guard and former Cal State Fullerton coach returning to Pauley for the first time in 10 years, some credit. This was a big victory for his program.

"To come in here and beat a ranked team is huge for us," Holland said.

More than anything else, these Bruins just don't have a presence. They don't have a commanding player, a Baron Davis, an Earl Watson or even a Matt Barnes, who can take over a game.

Kapono tries, but every opposing team that plays UCLA will be out to smother him first, then worry about everything else later.

Lavin, meanwhile, has to be concerned, especially with Duke coming up. It's not so much a matter of the Bruins trying to avoid a loss. It is a matter of trying to avoid a humiliation.

In one brief spurt Tuesday, the Bruins sprinted to an eight-point lead in the second half. But they seemed to lose that advantage as quickly as they lost their concentration.

"We shot too quickly with the lead," Lavin said later.

USD didn't. The Torerors were better coached and so much stronger inside, it was ridiculous.

UCLA was outrebounded 33-18 in the final 20 minutes.

Just as bad, the tiny crowd of 6,845 was as apathetic as most of the UCLA players were on this night.

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