LOS ANGELES -- If the UCLA Bruins didn’t already like the idea of playing their home games at the Los Angeles Sports Arena this season, they will like it even less after losing their season opener, 69-58, to Loyola Marymount.
With Loyola Marymount fans in the upper deck of the aging arena chanting, “This is our house!” and “Overrated!” in the final seconds, the Bruins, ranked No. 20 in the coaches poll and No. 17 in the AP poll, were stunned in front of a sparse crowd of 5,382 fans, many of which left before the game was over.
UCLA looked confused, lost and uninspired on the court from the opening tip, which has come to be an early season staple of the Bruins under Ben Howland the last two seasons with losses to Montana in '10 and Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State in '09.
Loyola Marymount outworked and outhustled UCLA in every aspect of the game and never looked back after taking a 34-33 halftime lead. The Lions controlled the second half and ran away with the game after going on a 12-0 run to take a 53-42 lead with 13:22 left in the game.
If this weren't UCLA's season-opener, perhaps a November game against the Lions could be overlooked, but UCLA fans that made the dreaded drive to USC’s campus to watch their team play expected more from a team ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2008.
Instead they got the same old team they’ve come to expect the past couple of seasons, which starts out slow and flames out late.
UCLA was primarily hurt by the Loyola Marymount tandem of Ashley Hamilton, who scored 23 points, and Anthony Ireland, who added 21 points. The Bruins consistently got beat by dribble penetration and The Lions kicking back out after drawing double teams, which accounted for the Lions being wide open outside and hitting 10 of 15 three-pointers.
The Bruins also attempted 15 three-pointers but hit just two and took one ill-advised shot after another and never was able to get good ball movement. The biggest reason for this fell on senior guard Lazeric Jones, who averaged a team-best 3.6 assists last season. On Friday night, he made just 1-of-11 shots for 3 points and committed 3 turnovers. Sophomore center Joshua Smith finished with just 5 points on 2-of-4 shooting after getting in early foul trouble.
Perhaps UCLA will improve in the shooting department when they get senior guard Jerime Anderson back, after he served his one-game suspension after he was arrested in July for allegedly stealing a computer, but even Howland admitted his presence would not have changed the outcome.
“We had a lot of mental breakdowns defensively and offensively we took a number of shots that were not great shots in key times of the game,” Howland said. “Josh never really got in sync and was only in for six minutes in the first half with the two fouls. They really did a good job on him and caused us problems with their help defense.”
The game’s only highlight for UCLA was the much-anticipated debut of David and Travis Wear, who had to sit out last season after transferring from North Carolina. The 6-10 twin forwards combined for 24 points and 13 rebounds. The only other bright spot was Reeves Nelson, who added 13 points and 8 rebounds. Everyone else in UCLA’s locker room wishes their season opener was actually next week against Middle Tennessee State.
“The locker room reaction isn’t really angry, maybe stunned is more appropriate,” Travis Wear said. “Anyone on our schedule can beat us if we don’t play 100 percent.”
Loyola Marymount wasn’t even playing at 100 percent for the game. The Lions’ best player, Drew Viney, who led the team with averages of 17.2 points and 6.6 rebounds last season, missed the game after undergoing surgery on his left foot.
“It’s a bad loss for us getting out of the gate,” Howland said. “We have a lot of work to do but I’ve been saying that. We have a long way to go.”