LOS ANGELES, Nov. 28 – If it is any consolation for the 2-2 GW men’s basketball team, it kept close with the No. 1 team in the country for 20 minutes.
But as the game progressed and the University of California-Los Angeles pulled away for a 83-60 win in front of 9,691 here at Pauley Pavilion, the first half proved to be an aberration, not a sign of things to come.
After overcoming the initial shock of playing the nation’s best team in one of the country’s most storied buildings, the Colonials put together a short run and found themselves down eight points at halftime. But with three of GW’s best players in foul trouble and one of the nation’s best guards beginning to find his rhythm, it was only a matter of time before the Bruins established their dominance.
“We’re disappointed,” junior Wynton Witherspoon (four points) said. “We felt like we could play with them better than we showed, but we just have to keep on working.”
UCLA started the game with a flurry of steals and breakaways, forcing GW to fall behind 10-2 and head coach Karl Hobbs to call two quick timeouts. The Colonials then began hitting shots against UCLA’s disciplined defense. Junior Cheyenne Moore and senior Maureece Rice were both successful from three-point range and, for a moment, it appeared as if GW might have a chance to at least play the Bruins tight. Even during the run, few baskets came easy.
By shooting 44 percent from the floor GW prevented UCLA from doing what it does best: getting rebounds and pushing the ball up the floor. In the second half, GW shot 32 percent from the field, allowing UCLA’s freshman center Kevin Love, who outweighs his GW counterpart junior Rob Diggs by 84 pounds, to get rebounds and start a fast break.
UCLA only out-rebounded GW 34-30 but caroms by the Colonials seemed often to be more the result of fortuitous bounces than superior positioning or ability. UCLA coach Ben Howland said he felt his team did a “good job on the boards.”
“It’s real simple – we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hobbs said as he stood outside his team’s locker room Wednesday evening in California. “I thought we just weren’t disciplined when we needed to be and just couldn’t get back on defense.”
With Love playing physically, GW’s smaller players were forced to foul in order to prevent easy baskets. Freshman Xavier Alexander, Witherspoon and sophomore Damian Hollis all had three fouls in the first half, limiting their ability to play aggressively in the second half – something UCLA took advantage of during a stretch in which they showed why they are who they are.
Freshman Miles Beatty led GW in points despite playing just 17 minutes, scoring 12 points, seven of which were from the free-throw line. After starting out relatively hot, Rice, the team’s offensive focal point this season, continued to struggle, finishing the game 3-for-11 and scoring 11 points.
Though preseason All-American guard Darren Collison, UCLA’s best player, made his first appearance of the season after recovering from an preseason left knee injury, it was sophomore Russell Westbrook who had the shone. Westbrook led all scorers with 19 points along side eight assists and seven rebounds to pace the Bruins.
Collison said he was hesitant at first, but once the adrenaline kicked in, he was more effective. A scout for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers described Collison as perhaps “the fastest player in the country” and even at less than fully healthy, the California native was able to get by GW’s defenders. He finished the game with 14 points and five assists.
“He made a lot of progress since the beginning of the week. We’re excited to have him back because he is such a great athlete,” Howland said.
With a two-game losing streak, Witherspoon said the team needs to start to practice better and avoid “sluggish” second halves, something that has plagued the team early in the season.
The Colonials will return to the District to play Auburn in the annual BB&T Classic Sunday at Verizon Center.