With a disappointing loss behind it, UCLA can now look to building for the rigors of the Pac-10 Conference.
The 16th-ranked Bruins continue a stretch of six games in the Los Angeles area on Saturday when they meet DePaul as part of the Wooden Classic at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
While it played sloppy at times, UCLA (5-2) bounced back from a tough loss at then-No. 8 Texas with an 85-67 victory over Cal State Northridge on Monday. Josh Shipp, Darren Collison and freshman Jrue Holiday each scored 14 points for the Bruins, who shot 58.3 percent to help offset 19 turnovers.
“It was hard not to think about the loss,” said Collison, who also had six assists. “It was so close and we had a chance to win. The bus ride coming back was real tough.”
Though this game is not being played at Pauley Pavilion, it is a short ride to the Honda Center to take part in the annual two-game event that honors John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach who created a dynasty in the 1960s and 1970s by winning seven consecutive NCAA tournament titles and 10 overall in a 12-year span.
The stretch of games - the Bruins begin defense of their Pac-10 title on Jan. 2 at Oregon State - also gives coach Ben Howland the chance to further develop his talented freshman class. While Holiday has made the easiest transition - averaging 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals - some of the other first-year players have been uneven. But forward Drew Gordon made his biggest contribution to date Monday, totaling nine points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
“Drew Gordon had his best game of the year,” Howland said. “He just played with a lot of intensity and I told him all that in front of the team.”
Fellow freshmen Malcolm Lee, J’Mison Morgan and Jerime Anderson have combined to contribute 9.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game for UCLA.
“It’s difficult for freshmen,” Howland admitted. “Habits are something that take place over the course of time with repetitions of what they are learning. It takes time to develop that repetitiveness in what you do day after day.”
DePaul (4-3), making its second trip to California in nine days, is at a potential crossroads in its season as it tries to halt a three-game losing streak. The Blue Demons were stunned at home 79-75 by Morgan State on Wednesday, squandering a nine-point lead in the final 12:13 as they shot just 30 percent in the second half.
Dar Tucker had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Demons, whose skid started with a 77-67 loss at California on Dec. 3. They are shooting just 37.8 percent as a team and 28.0 percent from 3-point range overall, and a woeful 22.0 percent (13-for-59) from beyond the arc during the skid.
Tucker is averaging a team-high 20.3 points despite shooting 36.9 percent. Sophomore center Mac Koshwal, who added 15 points and nine rebounds against Morgan State after missing a game due to a foot injury, is contributing 12.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game while shooting 55.6 percent.
UCLA has won the last five games between the teams and leads the all-time series 11-6. The Bruins, who are 7-0 in the Wooden Classic when ranked and 8-3 overall in the event, defeated the Blue Demons 94-88 in the most recent meeting in 2001.