Even with two of the nation’s top seniors on his roster, Ben Howland knows his UCLA team will endure some growing pains.
Coming off an upset loss, the No. 4 Bruins look to rebound when they face Southern Illinois on Friday night at Madison Square Garden in the third-place game of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
With a possible tournament matchup against No. 10 Duke looming, UCLA (2-1) couldn’t handle the matter at hand, losing 55-52 to Michigan in Thursday’s semifinal contest. The result snapped the Bruins’ 13-game winning streak versus non-conference opponents.
UCLA now faces Southern Illinois (2-1), which lost 83-58 to the Blue Devils in Thursday’s first semifinal contest.
Though seniors Darren Collison and Josh Shipp - each part of UCLA’s three consecutive national semifinal teams - are back, Howland’s roster is filled with inexperienced upperclassmen and five talented, but raw, freshmen. While Thursday’s loss is disappointing, the coach is not ready to panic.
“It’s early and we’re a very young team,” Howland said. “We have to bounce back (Friday) night against a good Southern Illinois team.”
Collison, a preseason All-American pick, and starting freshman guard Jrue Holiday each had 13 points for the Bruins, who were stymied by Michigan’s aggressive 1-3-1 zone defense. Shipp, UCLA’s second-leading scorer who was averaging 12.5 points entering the semifinals, was held to five as the Bruins shot 42.0 percent and committed 17 turnovers.
“At times we were patient, and of our 50 shots, there were some we’d like to have back,” said Howland, whose team didn’t have an easy time in a 64-59 win over Miami of Ohio in its previous contest.
The Bruins outplayed the Wolverines in the first half, when they outshot Michigan 50 percent to 31 percent and held a 21-8 rebounding advantage, but had only a six-point lead at the break.
Michigan used a 10-2 run to take its first lead with 16:42 left, then the teams traded baskets over the next 11 minutes. The Wolverines took the lead for good 49-48 with just over four minutes to play. The Bruins cut the lead to one with 5 seconds left, but Michigan’s Manny Harris hit two free throws and blocked Collison’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer to complete the upset.
Collison, averaging 6.0 points and 4.0 assists, is 17-for-30 from the floor this season.
Though UCLA leads 2-0 in the all-time series with Southern Illinois, this will be the first meeting since the Bruins won 90-75 on Dec. 16, 1977.
The Salukis played Duke tough for a half, but shot 35.1 percent and were burdened by foul trouble throughout. Forward Nick Evans fouled out with 7:59 left, Tony Boyle did the same with just under 7 minutes as Duke went 40-for-47 from the free-throw line.
“That killed us,” SIU coach Chris Lowery said. “We felt we had a good game plan going in, we just didn’t expect to be in that kind of foul trouble.”
Carlton Fay had 17 points while freshman Kevin Dillard added 10 for the Salukis, who are trying to bounce back from a disappointing 18-15 season in 2007-08.
Fay, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, is averaging 16.7 points and 6.0 rebounds after scoring 78 points in 33 games last season.