UCLA went into its Pac-10 opener looking to avenge a loss from last season.
The fifth-ranked Bruins aren’t likely to be any less motivated Saturday night when they face California, which knocked them out of last season’s conference tournament.
UCLA was ranked third when it suffered its second loss of 2006-07, blowing a 12-point halftime lead at Stanford on Jan. 28 in a 75-68 defeat to the unranked Cardinal. That loss bothered the Bruins, and they showed extra emotion in their return to Stanford’s campus on Thursday night en route to a 76-67 win over the No. 24 Cardinal in their Pac-10 opener.
UCLA (13-1) now faces the team that likely cost it a No. 1 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament. A 76-69 loss to the Golden Bears in the Pac-10 tournament quarterfinals gave the Bruins two straight losses for the first time all season, likely dropping them to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They still ended up in the Final Four for the second straight year before losing to eventual champion Florida, but emotions should be running high for a rematch with Cal (10-2, 1-0).
The Golden Bears may have a chance to join the rankings as well if they pull off a second straight upset, having defeated No. 22 Southern California 92-82 on Thursday night.
While Cal was winning a third straight game, Josh Shipp led a lively Bruins team to its sixth consecutive victory. The senior swingman scored 21 points and went 5-of-8 from 3-point range, including one with four minutes left during a key second-half surge that gave UCLA an 11-point lead.
Shipp had 19 points and was 5-for-9 from 3-point range in last season’s Pac-10 tournament loss to the Golden Bears.
“Every time I step on the court I want to be aggressive and make a statement,” said Shipp, who is second on UCLA with 14.9 points per game.
Shipp stepped up for the short-handed Bruins, who had to use sophomore forward James Keefe on Thursday for the first time this season. He was scheduled to use his redshirt season following August surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, but injuries to Mustafa Adbul-Hamid and Michael Roll forced him onto the court to reinforce a thin bench.
Abdul-Hamid is expected to miss his seventh straight game with a stress reaction in his right foot. Roll re-injured the plantar fascia in his left foot on Dec. 31, and will miss at least three weeks.
Cal, meanwhile, got an outstanding performance from reserve forward Eric Vierneisel on Thursday against USC. Vierneisel made consecutive 3-pointers to break open a one-point game in the second half, finishing with 15 points after playing poorly through most of the non-conference schedule.
“It’s been kind of a struggle the first part of the season,” said Vierneisel, averaging 4.9 points and shooting 31.5 percent from the field. “I have confidence in my shot, my teammates have confidence in me, my coaches have confidence in me. That’s what I’m out there to do.”
Vierneisel had a strong effort off the bench versus UCLA in last season’s conference tournament, leading all reserves with 10 points. Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle, who also came off the bench in that game, led the Golden Bears on Thursday with 24 and 16 points, respectively.
That trio combined to make eight of Cal’s 11 3-pointers, giving the Golden Bears at least 10 shots made from beyond the arc in three straight games. They shot 44.4 percent (8-for-18) from 3-point range in their upset of the Bruins in March after losing the teams’ first two meetings of 2006-07.
UCLA leads the all-time series 126-94.