“We just got beat by a better team,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie. “I think we’ve still got a good team, a special team that will do some pretty nice things this season, but we have to chalk this one up to how impressive UCLA really was.”
Indeed it was.
Junior Josh Shipp poured in 20 points in just 22 minutes of play and the debut of freshman center Kevin Love lived up to the preseason hype by adding 15 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Bruins to the 50-point victory.
UCLA used a swarming and relentless defense to force Azusa Pacific into 19 turnovers, and then canned 26 of its final 39 shots of the game to run away for the victory. Ten different Bruins scored with 6 finishing in double figures. Michael Roll chipped in 16 points off the bench, knocking down 3 shots from the arc in the process, but it was Shipp who the most impressive, making all his shots inside the 3-point arc and then adding another 3 from beyond it.
“Josh came in and did a lot of good things,” said UCLA head coach Ben Howland. “You have to give him credit for working so hard to return from his injury and playing so well.”
Whether it was a case of nerves or defense or a combination of both for each team, the game remained rather interesting for the first 8 minutes with UCLA moving out to a 14-6 lead. The Cougars allowed UCLA just 8 shots while forcing 5 turnovers in the opening minutes of play. However, Azusa Pacific wasn’t necessarily sharp either, missing 9 of its first 12 shots. The Bruins, though, eventually found their comfort zone and reeled off a 14-2 run, parlaying a series of Cougar turnovers into a chorus of fast-break dunks, including 3 by Shipp in a 90-second span.
“In the first half, you take away the 5 turnovers that turned straight into transition baskets, it’s a 10- or 12-point game, not 21, and that’s a lot different,” said Leslie.
When Azusa Pacific figured a way to put the breaks on UCLA’s transition offense, the Bruins turned to a perimeter attack in the half-court game, burying a quartet of treys to move out to a 44-21 lead with 3 minutes left in the first half, eventually settling for a 48-26 advantage at the break.
Azusa Pacific tried its best to hang with the Bruins early in the second half, trading baskets for 4 minutes, but midway through the frame UCLA went on a 24-3 run to move out to a 91-42 lead following a Shipp 3-pointer. In all, the Bruins made a dozen 3-pointers for the game and were 7-for-11 from the arc in the second half. Meanwhile Love controled play in the key.
“He’s obviously a great player who can rebound with the best of them,” said Cougar center David Burgess, who at 6-foot-10, 260 did not give away anything in stature to Love. “What I was trying to do was push him off the block a little bit, but he still got his touches. I tried to do everything I could, but there isn’t much you can do against that type of team and that type of player.”
All-Pac-10 guard Darren Collison had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting to go along with 7 assists and a pair of steal in a team-high 26 minutes of play. However, according to Howland, Collison “tweaked” his left knee in the first 2 minutes of the game and will undergo an MRI Saturday.
Todd Martin led Azusa Pacific with 10 points, including 8 in the first half. Redshirt freshman Mike Caffese may have played himself into a starting roll at the point, coming off the bench to tally 8 points and 2 assists while recording the Cougars’ only 2 steals of the game in just 15 minutes of action.
“We know Mike is fearless,” said Leslie, “we just hope that in the process of being fearless, he makes good decisions. Tonight he did. I wasn’t expecting him to spark us on the offensive end, I was expecting it to come on the defensive end, but he came out and really gave us a big lift.”
Caffese drained a pair of treys and in case he ended a Cougar scoring drought.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience,” said Caffese. “Not a lot of players at our level are able to say they got to play UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. I just wanted to make the most of it and get out there and play as hard as I could.”
Azusa Pacific turns around in less than 11 hours after the UCLA game and flies to Billings, Mont., to officially opens the season Saturday afternoon against University of Montana-Western in a tournament at Rocky Mountain College. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. (MDT).
But for now, before the next tip-off, this is a time to be enjoyed by all.
"It was great that UCLA let us have this opportunity," said senior guard Matt Oliver. "To play against such a great school and in such a great atmosphere is just awesome."