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Bruins lay down in 66-57 loss to MT

The UCLA basketball team turned in its biggest dud of the season Sunday night at Pauley Pavilion, struggling mightily in front of a mostly silent and very small crowd during a 66-57 loss to Montana.

After taking No. 4 Kansas to the wire on Thursday, this was a classic letdown. The Bruins played with little energy on both ends of the court, and paid the price on the scoreboard.

“I’m just so disappointed in our effort,” Coach Ben Howland said. “I thought our effort out there, after coming off a great effort Thursday at Kansas, we just had such a poor effort.”

Here are five things to take from this Bruins loss.

Don’t take any opponent for granted

Montana isn’t exactly a pushover. The Grizzlies (4-3) went to the NCAA tournament last season, but after playing two games at Madison Square Garden and a game at Allen Fieldhouse, Montana didn’t exactly get the Bruins competitive juices flowing.

“I think we took this team too lightly,” said UCLA guard Malcolm Lee, who led the Bruins with 13 points. “I think it was kind of like a hidden feeling that we almost beat Kansas and then two days later we’re playing Montana. Not taking nothing from them, but we just played a No. 4 ranked team and we just came out slow and lazy.”

But this UCLA team is not good enough to think it can succeed without maximum effort every night. The Bruins must use this as a learning experience going forward.

“I think our sense of urgency is going to be a little bit more,” Lee said “We can’t take no team lightly I guess now. Our first three losses were really good teams. I’m not saying nothing against Montana, but now we can’t take no team lightly. That’s embedded in our minds.”

UCLA needs to work on attacking a zone

The Bruins faced a team playing primarily zone defense for the first time, and it was a complete failure. They shot 31.3% for the game, including 27% in the second half. They were four of 18 on three-points shots and had difficulties penetrating and getting the ball inside.

“We did a very poor job of attacking their zone without a lot of patience,” Howland said.

Montana came out in a man-to-man, but switched to a zone about halfway through the first half. UCLA had only one turnover prior to the switch but had eight in the final eight minutes of the first half and finished with 16 for the game.

“I think that zone just stifled us,” Lee said. “It threw everything off. We were prepared for it, but our zone in practice wasn’t nearly as good as theirs was in a game.”

Size matters

Montana center Brian Qvale and forward Derek Selvig are 7-feet and 6-11, respectively. They comprised the biggest tandem UCLA has faced this season and the Bruins had problems dealing with them.

Qvale was especially effective on the defensive end. He had two blocked shots but altered many others. Bruins center Joshua Smith made only one of eight field goal attempts, with most of those misses coming on close-range shots that were altered by Montana’s big man.

Reeves Nelson, UCLA’s other main inside presence also had a poor shooting night, going 2-9 from the field. That’s three of 17 (17.6%) combined for UCLA’s two inside players.

qvale finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Selvig had eight points and eight rebounds.

“Josh seemed rushed,” Howland said. “He was 0-5 in the first half. Trying to move too quick. Their size inside bothered us defensively and Qvale did a good job offensively when he got the ball in there on the block.”

The Bruins hurt their chances at making the NCAA tournament

Let’s face it, UCLA is lacking in the quality wins department and playing in a weak Pac-10 isn’t going to help their RPI come selection time.

So, barring a Pac-10 title or winning the conference tournament, UCLA needs to win games like this in order to find a way into the brackets in March.

This loss will haunt the Bruins and puts extra pressure on upcoming games against Cal Poly and UC Davis. The only chance UCLA has left for a quality win before Pac-10 play starts will come Dec. 18 against Brigham Young in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

“It’s early, but yeah, it’s a bad loss. No question,” Howland said. “We’ve got to control our future by having better practices and playing harder. It’s frustrating that it’s not always a given.”

Lazeric Jones echoed Howland’s frustration, saying coming off a three-game losing streak should have motivated UCLA to come out with more energy against a pretty good opponent Sunday night.

“You might not win every game, but we should have come out with more urgency,” Jones said. “We just lost three in a row and we should have come out and really wanted to give this team our all. Right now we’re in a fight to win as many games as possible, trying to make the NCAA tournament.”

The timing for this game wasn’t ideal

The atmosphere for a Sunday game in Pauley Pavilion was flat. It didn’t help that finals begin Monday leaving the student section only about a quarter full.

Plus, there is just an overall down vibe around UCLA with the football team’s loss to USC the night before and the basketball team suffering three tough losses in a row before this game.

Add in the travel that the basketball team has endured—New York and Kansas in the span of nine days—and it added up to all around bad timing for this game.

“This was a nightmare deal,” Howland said. “Just this whole environment tonight was bad for us. But we’ve got to be mentally tough and be able to fight thorough that and not let that affect us.”

Lee acknowledged that the atmosphere wasn’t ideal, especially when the remaining fans booed the team, but he said the fans deserve better than what they got, no matter how difficult the situation.

“We deserved the Boos,” Lee said. “Our fans came to watch us play and we didn’t give them a good showing. I thought a lot of people anticipated us to play hard especially after our showing against Kansas and we did the exact opposite.”