PULLMAN, Wash. (AP)—With Washington State double-teaming Kevin Love, Darren Collison came through big for UCLA.
Collison scored all 18 of his points in the decisive second half to lead the No. 5 Bruins to a rugged 67-59 victory over reeling No. 17 Washington State.
“It’s Kevin’s presence,” Collison said after UCLA (21-2, 9-1 Pac-10) stayed one game ahead of Stanford atop the Pac-10. “He causes a lot of attention. They did all they can. They were doubling him, hedging him, doing anything to keep the ball out of his hands.”
Ultimately, none of it worked.
While Love took just eight shots—his fewest in almost a month—he made six of them and had 16 points. He added nine rebounds, just missing a seventh consecutive double-double.
“I knew I had to shoot a good percentage if they were going to double me,” said Love, who has been used to such treatment for years. He broke the Oregon state scoring record as a four-year starter at Lake Oswego High School.
Collison made all seven of his free throws and coolly shook off 0-for-4 shooting in the first half.
The presence of the freshman Love, who is starting to convert those who doubted the hype that he was UCLA’s best big man since Bill Walton, with Collison and slashing Russell Westbrook (14 points) outside make the Bruins perhaps even more tough to defend than their Final Four teams of the last two seasons.
It already has them off to their best start since the 1994-95 NCAA championship team went 32-1.
“They have a legitimate interior attack, and quickness on the outside,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said.
Kyle Weaver scored 13 points and Aron Baynes added 11 despite foul trouble for the Cougars (17-5, 5-5), who are now 1-70 against teams ranked in the top five. They got just seven points from leader Derrick Low. He has scored just five, five and now seven points in three of WSU’s last four losses.
“In order to win a game you have to come up with something special down the stretch,” Bennett said. “We didn’t have it,”
Washington State lost for the third consecutive time—all at home—and for the fifth time in eight games since it was ranked fourth.
That’s in the country. Now, WSU is tied for fifth in the Pac-10, with California.
After the teams were deadlocked at 26 at halftime, they stayed within four of each other until midway through the second half. Then Washington State’s big men, Robbie Cowgill and Baynes, got in foul trouble with 9 minutes left.
That’s when the Bruins began a Love-fest.
Instead of skip passes that had been going away from the big freshman earlier, Love received a steady feed of entry passes. He converted four consecutive free throws to give UCLA a 50-45 lead with 6:09 left, while getting fourth fouls on Cowgill and Baynes.
“To tell you the truth, I was getting frustrated,” Love said. “Then they decided to give me the ball, I guess.”
Westbrook, who had badly missed his first two jump shots of the second half after a 4-for-7 opening half, scored on a breakaway layup off a steal with 5:49 left. Then Cowgill fouled out with 5:18 remaining trying to get a rebound after another UCLA steal.
Love then scored on a putback of his own miss on a fourth-chance offensive rebound to give the Bruins a 54-45 lead with 4 1/2 minutes to go. That relentless play seemed to doom the Cougars.
“We kind of looked at their body posture after that—and that’s when we thought we had the game won.”
The Bruins forged the halftime tie despite committing 10 turnovers—eight on steals by the Cougars—and largely ignoring the prime position Love kept gaining in the low blocks. The 6-foot-11, 271-pound brute continually shoved away Cowgill, who is an inch shorter and 60 pounds lighter. Yet Love took just five shots in the first half, making four. And he took only three shots after halftime.
But Collison was plenty good enough in his stead, making 5-of-8 shots while silencing the victory-hungry crowd throughout the second half.
“What a great win,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “To beat them up here knowing their backs were against the wall is huge.
“To hold Low to seven points is a credit to our team’s defense.”