LOS ANGELES — Cal Poly knew there was no way the Bruins were going to let another small school beat them again. But that didn’t mean Cal Poly wasn’t going to give them a run for their money.
Despite the losses this season, despite the struggles on the offensive side of the ball, head coach Joe Callero and the Cal Poly men’s basketball team held their ground, but UCLA ultimately ran off with a 72-61 win Saturday in Pauley Pavilion.
“Most people that came to the game tonight would say, ‘Wow you played well. You kept it competitive,’” Callero said. “Well, we thought we could do that, what we wanted to do was what Montana was able to do a couple days earlier — come in here and win the game.”
The Mustangs’ 3-point shooting and quickness were some of the things that kept them in the game early. Chris O’Brien and David Hanson both hit buckets from 3-point range and Shawn Lewis found lanes to the bucket with ease out of the gates. Their fortunes put the Mustangs up as much as four points in the early minutes.
But soon enough, Cal Poly’s 36.9 shooting percentage on the season – ranked 331st in the nation – and its 57.7 point per game average – ranked 327th in the nation — caught up with the team. The Mustangs’ 47.6 shooting percentage in the first half turned to 37.9 in the second half.
“We have to just stay aggressive the whole game,” guard Shawn Lewis said. “We kind of just got content at halftime, we should have been hungry.”
On the other side of the court, the Bruins used their size, scoring 18 points of their total 34 first-half points in the paint. They used a steady dose of center Josh Smith — a 6-foot-10, 300-pound freshman. He powered through defenders, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Eleven of his points came in the first half.
“We just had to dig down on him and have him pass the ball out,” Lewis said. “We were finally able to do it and then the shooters started knocking down shots.”
UCLA knocked down 38.5 percent of its 3-pointers in the second half, 13.5 percent better than the team’s combined 2-8 from deep in the first half. It was one of the primary reasons UCLA was able to pull away.
Jones and forward Reeves Nelson hit back-to-back 3-pointers with 15 minutes left in the first half, to give the Bruins their first lead of the night. With shooters hitting more and more shots, UCLA went on a 15-6 run to end the half and was able to pull away to as much as eight before the break.
In the second half, guard Maliik Love brought the Mustangs to within three points off a follow-up basket with 17 minutes left in the game. But then Cal Poly lost its intensity.
Forward Tyler Honeycutt hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to put UCLA up 55-38. And when Cal Poly crawled back to within seven, Honeycutt answered with a monster two-handed jam off an alley-oop pass from Jerime Anderson.
Honeycutt, Smith and the rest of the Bruins didn’t let up down the stretch, en route to their first win in five games.
Honeycutt is widely considered one the best pro prospects in the Pac-10. And besides him, UCLA’s roster reads something of a Los Angeles county all-star team. That, combined with the bright lights of Pauley Pavilion, makes it hard not to think there was some kind of awe factor for the Mustangs against the Bruins.
Forward David Hanson denied anything of the sort.
“It was fun,” Hanson said. “I guess my mentality today wasn’t any different than any other game. As far as UCLA and this great arena, I didn’t look at it any differently.”
But even if Hanson didn’t see this game any different than matchups against teams like UC Davis and Long Beach State from the Big West, Hanson said there was still a lot he took away from playing against such a decorated program.
“This is a top-tier program,” Hanson said. “They were able to exploit some stuff that we need to now work on but I think it kind of gives us confidence that we can compete on this level versus a team like this, we were right there.”
Nonetheless, it is another loss for the Mustangs, which look like they may be heading in the wrong direction on their current five-game road trip.
Cal Poly lost to Loyola Marymount 67-48 in their first game of what many seem to think may be the biggest road trip in program history. After the game against UCLA, the Mustangs head into a matchup against No. 15 San Diego State with two consecutive losses on their shoulders.
After that, they square off against another Pac-10 contender – California.
All opponents considered, it may be the toughest test in program history. But it’s one Hanson said the team is ready for.
“We are going to take it one game at a time,” Hanson said. “We are going to compete and just try to get better and prepare ourselves for conference play.”