Slow starts against quality opponents have plagued UCLA in its last two contests.
The eighth-ranked Bruins hope to open strong against a less formidable opponent Saturday when they face Idaho State in their first game at Pauley Pavilion since suffering their only loss of the season there.
UCLA overcame an 18-point, first-half deficit to beat Davidson 75-63 last Saturday at the Wooden Classic in nearby Anaheim.
The Bruins were able to rally for that victory after failing to dig out of a 16-point, first-half hole in their 63-61 home loss to then-No. 8 Texas on Dec. 2.
“If we had the answer, we wouldn’t do it,” UCLA forward Josh Shipp said of his team’s recent first-half woes. “It’s our intensity level; we don’t come out with the great level we need.”
Three times this season UCLA has trailed at halftime and twice it has come back to win. Last week, the Bruins struggled to contain a veteran Davidson team that shot 51.9 percent in the first half.
The Bruins, though, didn’t let things get too out of hand and finished the half on a 19-6 run to trail by four points at the break. UCLA took over in the final 20 minutes, shooting 16-for-24 from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range while outscoring Davidson 45-29.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scored a season-high 21 points and added eight rebounds, while freshman Kevin Love overcame early foul trouble to post 12 points and 12 rebounds, including nine on the defensive end.
“That’s Kevin’s biggest attribute right now, his ability to rebound on defense,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
Mbah a Moute, who averages 10.1 points with 4.7 rebounds and is known more for his defensive presence, is scoring 17.5 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds in his last two contests.
Each UCLA starter scored in double figures against Davidson as the Bruins bounced back from their lone defeat of the season.
The Bruins hope for the same balance when they face Idaho State (2-6) for the first time since winning 85-58 at home on Nov. 25, 1983. UCLA leads 2-1 in the all-time series with the Bengals.
Idaho State’s lone victory was one of the biggest in school history when it beat then-No. 2 UCLA 76-75 on March 17, 1977 in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. The loss ended the Bruins’ run of 10 straight national semifinal appearances.
The Bengals will face a stiff challenge trying to again upset the Bruins after losing 93-61 at home to Boise State on Dec. 5 in their most recent contest.
Idaho State allowed a season high for points, while Boise State shot 56.6 percent - the best by any Bengals opponent this season.
“From a guy who has been in this profession a long time, that was embarrassing and not acceptable,” Idaho State coach Joe O’Brien said.
One bright spot for the Bengals in their last game and on the season has been junior guard Matt Stucki, who had 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting versus Boise. He averages a team-leading 12.6 points and is scoring 25.5 in his last two games since being held to two in his previous two contests combined.
Idaho State won 71-69 in overtime at Idaho on Dec. 1 for its most recent victory, which also snapped a 13-game losing streak away from home to non-conference opponents. The Bengals have already played at Iowa, BYU and Oregon State this season.