A call and response by the arena emcee begins each game at Pauley Pavilion.
He asks the crowd of UCLA supporters a series of standard who-are-we-and-what-are-we-gonna-do questions, trying to rally some energy just before tipoff. (It complements the student section’s pregame ritual of loudly pointing to the visiting squad and identifying them as the “loooooosing team,” one of those lighthearted college traditions that has spanned generations.)
On Wednesday, with the No. 3-ranked Bruins hosting the woebegone Washington Huskies, the final question seemed more a statement of fact than a cheeky taunt or call to action.
“Who’s gonna muzzle those Huskies?” the man barked into the microphone.
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“Bruins!” the obedient masses yelled back.
They knew it. You knew it. Everyone knew it.
The Huskies had no chance on Wednesday night. For starters, they aren’t any good, losers now of a school-record 11 consecutive games. The Bruins, conversely, are quite good, winners now of eight consecutive games and loaded enough for a potential national championship run. And star UW freshman Markelle Fultz did not play due to a sore knee, meaning the Huskies were not only destined to lose this game by a large margin, but there was little reason for anyone to watch them do so, either.
When the scrimmage concluded, the scoreboard read 98-66 in UCLA’s favor, a defeat only slightly less embarrassing than the first time these teams met back in early February, when the Bruins thrashed the Huskies 107-66 before a sellout crowd at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
So, let’s assess the most recent damage: UW is now 9-20 overall, 2-15 in Pac-12 play, and in need of a victory over USC on Saturday – a dubious proposition – to avoid posting its worst league record since the conference initiated an 18-game schedule in 1978-79.
The Huskies have also lost 13 consecutive Pac-12 road games dating to last season, which ties a school record.
At times, the Huskies struggled to simply move the ball into the frontcourt. When they accomplished that, they struggled to move it much further, finding seemingly every passing lane occupied by the arms of UCLA’s taller, longer players.
“They sit there and wait, have their arms down so you really can’t see how long they are, and they shoot the gap,” said UW forward Noah Dickerson, who tied a career high with 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. “We turned the ball over way too much.”
Way too much. Twenty times total and 12 in the first half alone, in fact, and the Bruins scored 20 of their 49 first-half points as a direct result of those takeaways. Eight of them were credited as steals. The Huskies had shown at least some bite after falling behind 11-0 in the first two minutes, fighting back to trail 21-14, before they committed six turnovers in a three-plus minute span to fuel a 16-2 Bruins run. Ballgame. The halftime score was 49-28. The Bruins led by 30 with 11:09 to play, and by 42 with 4:24 to play.
“When you go to make passes,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said, remarking on the size of UCLA’s guards and the Bruins’ height in the frontcourt, “there’s just not a lot there.”
It didn’t help UW that UCLA (27-3, 14-3) made 7-of-14 from beyond the 3-point stripe in the first half (and 14-of-27 total), senior guard Bryce Alford tossing in four of those shots in the game’s first six minutes. Alford led all scorers with 29 points and made eight 3-pointers.
“We didn’t communicate well throughout the game and we lost him multiple times,” UW guard Matisse Thybulle said. “If he just sees it, it’s a bucket. I give him a lot of props because he hit a lot of tough shots. We definitely helped him a little bit.”
Freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, a likely top-five pick in this year’s NBA draft, scored 19 points with eight assists, seven rebounds and four steals, and his defensive persistence – particularly in the backcourt – bothered the Huskies all night. UCLA scored 34 points off UW’s giveaways.
“Kind of ridiculous,” Dickerson mused.
“Every time you make a mistake,” Romar said, “they’re able to capitalize.”
The guy who could have helped UW navigate that mess – Fultz, out for the fourth time in six games with a sore knee – watched this one from the bench, wearing a black t-shirt and pants with a gold wrist watch and a pair of black-and-gold Air Jordan 4 Royalty sneakers. He again seemed in a good mood, laughing and slapping high-fives with teammates during warmups, offering encouragement throughout another discouraging result.
Romar said Fultz likely won’t play Saturday at USC, either, and he couldn’t say whether the star guard might be able to return next week for the Pac-12 tournament.
Even if he’d played, the Huskies weren’t going to win this game. When they lost to the Bruins by 41 points, at home, Fultz played and scored 25 points. So, maybe this was progress.
“Last time in Seattle when we played them, we threw in the towel,” Dickerson said, “and we didn’t do that this time.”
“I didn’t think we quit at all,” Romar said.
“The score isn’t going to tell you that much,” Thybulle said, “but man to man on the team, we know we didn’t give in like we did last time.”
Thybulle joined Dickerson in double figures with 15 points, and freshman forward Sam Timmins battled inside for 12 rebounds. But the Huskies made only 5-of-23 from 3-point range – sophomore guard David Crisp was 0-for-8 – and looked mostly lost offensively.
“You just don’t play against anybody like that every day,” Romar said. “You just don’t. They’re a very, very good basketball team.”
The Huskies, then, are the Bruins’ living, breathing antithesis, throttled yet again the way everyone expected.
Game in review
Player of the game: UCLA guard Bryce Alford led all scorers with 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and 8-of-14 from 3-point range, peppering the Huskies with unguardable volleys from beyond the perimeter. He also had four assists and three rebounds in 32 minutes.
Play of the game: There wasn’t one.
Stat of the game: Washington committed 20 turnovers, and the Bruins turned those turnovers into 34 points. UCLA forced 12 turnovers in the first half alone, scoring 20 points off those takeaways in 20 minutes.
Quotable: “We’re all still together, we’re all still fighting, we all want to win. We all want to get better. This is what we want to do. That’s just what we do. We play hard, practice hard and we’re going to finish as strong as we can.” – UW forward Noah Dickerson
What it means: Not a whole lot, other than another loss. The Huskies are now adding to their school-record losing streak (11 games), and must win Saturday at USC to avoid posting the worst 18-game league record in school history. Without Markelle Fultz, there simply isn’t much this team can do to be competitive against the Pac-12’s elite.
Up next: Washington at USC, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Network.