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February 3, 2008

UCLA stifles Bayless, Arizona

LOS ANGELES They say Jerryd Bayless takes losing tougher than most, that it's pointless to approach him after a defeat because he's so dejected he can hardly speak.

Still, considering he's the best player on Arizona's roster, it would've been irresponsible not to have him explain what happened during a humiliating 82-60 loss to UCLA Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.

"We got punked tonight," Bayless mumbled. "That's all I can say. We got punked tonight."

Bayless didn't look anyone in the eye as he spoke. Instead he stared straight forward in bewilderment. It was a fitting look, considering he and the Wildcats had spent the last two hours wearing the same, dumbfounded expression on the court.

UCLA's defense can do that to a team. Ever since he arrived in Westwood four years ago, Ben Howland has been coaching his players to be mean and aggressive and physical. Sure, it helps when you have the length and athleticism of Darren Collison and the size and strength of Kevin Love.

More than anything, though, defense at UCLA begins and ends with mentality.

"We try to suck the life out of everyone," Love said.

UCLA certainly did that to Arizona, and it's not as if the Bruins were playing a Pac-10 bottom feeder like Oregon State or a non-conference directional school such as Western Illinois.

Arizona entered the nationally televised game touting four straight victories over Top 25-caliber schools such as Cal, Washington State and USC and the Wildcats' roster features two future lottery picks in Bayless and Chase Budinger and another first-rounder in Jordan Hill.

None of that mattered to the Bruins, who seemed to intimidate Arizona from start to finish.

"We weren't ready for them," Hill said.

Arizona fell behind 23-8 after going nearly nine minutes without a field goal. Spud Webb could've found cleaner looks against Shawn Bradley than the Wildcats were getting against UCLA.

The Bruins led 42-22 at intermission and were up by as many as 32 points in the second half. So frazzled was Arizona that Jawann McClellan and Fendi Onobun missed point blank layups after their defender had fallen to the hardwood.

At one point late in the game, television cameras actually caught a few UCLA players laughing after forcing yet another Arizona blunder.

"I take that as disrespect," McClellan said. "But what can you do? They were playing well. They deserved to laugh."

Saturday's defensive performance was nothing new for UCLA. The Bruins have reached back-to-back Final Fours mainly because they've developed a passion for taking opponents out of their offense and making it nearly impossible to get a clean look at the basket.

In some ways the style doesn't seem fitting in the Pac-10 and especially not here amid the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, where it's all about "Showtime."

Whether it's fair or not, the Pac-10 is often thought of as an offensive-minded, finesse league that's a bit on the soft side when it comes to defense. With Howland in the mix, that reputation might be changing.

"We can definitely frustrate teams if they're not used to seeing pressure like that," guard Josh Shipp said. "(The Wildcats) weren't getting the open looks that they're used to getting. They got sped up a little bit. They were trying to make the home run plays once they got down."

For 20 straight years opponents averaged 70 or more points a contest against the Bruins, but that was before Howland led them to the national championship game in 2006. That season, teams scored an average 58.7 points against UCLA. The Bruins posted a similar number a year later (59.9 opponent points) en route to their second straight Final Four.

This season opponents are averaging 57.8 points against Howland's squad, which ranks third in the country.

"We recruit really good athletes, so you have to have quickness and length and speed," Howland said. "Our backcourt, with Collison and Westbrook I can't imagine there's a quicker backcourt in the country.

"We also want to recruit extremely competitive kids. These kids are like that. They're driven. Our players understand that defense is the concept you need to have success night in and night out. Some nights we're not going to be knocking down all of our jumpers, but our defense will still give us a chance."

Good as UCLA's defense was Saturday, the Bruins almost didn't need it considering they made 57.1 percent of their shots.

Love recorded his 13th double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds while Westbrook added 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting. UCLA outrebounded Arizona 35-22.

"We learned our lesson," McClellan said. "As much as I hate to say it, we needed this loss to wake us up. It's not so bad to take a loss before tournament time, but taking a loss like this hurts, when you don't come out with any emotion or passion."

Even if the Wildcats would've, it might not have made a difference.

"We were out-played, out-coached and out-hustled," Arizona coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We had no fight. They went after us from beginning to end."

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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