Dec. 20, 2006
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Now comes the hard part for No. 1 UCLA.
"We knew they'd be a hard team, their style of ball," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "They come out, they have that Princeton offense. It's not fun, it's like a root canal. I'm just glad we got the win.
"This game was good for us to test our mental toughness on defense for long stretches of time. Other people are going to use that tactic against us."
Other than a 65-62 triumph over No. 13 Texas A&M, the Bruins breezed to one-sided victories over lesser opponents since winning the Maui Invitational last month, beating Long Beach State by 30 points, UC Riverside by 23, Cal State Fullerton by 24 and Oakland (Mich.) by 21.
The road figures to get much tougher because UCLA entertains Michigan (11-1) on Saturday before opening its Pac-10 schedule next week with home games against Washington State (10-1) and No. 17 Washington (8-1).
After that, the Bruins travel to face Oregon State (6-5), No. 21 Oregon (10-0) and Southern California (9-2).
"We've got a really tough road ahead," Howland said. "We have 20 games in a row, every one of them will be very highly contested, starting with Michigan on Saturday.
"It's all starting now. We have to be mentally and physically prepared. I thought we could be close to where we are right now, but you have to take it one game at a time. Our league is the best since I've been here."
Ryan Bright and Jejuan Plair each had 12 points and six rebounds for Sam Houston State (6-5). Bright, who leads his team in scoring, also had four steals before fouling out with 4:47 remaining. James Barrett scored 12 points for the Bearkats.
The Bruins scored the first five points of the second half for a 40-29 lead before Sam Houston State went on an 11-4 run to make it 44-40. But that's as close as the Bearkats would get.
A 3-pointer by Michael Roll and six straight points by Shipp extended UCLA's lead to 57-43 with 8:45 remaining, and the Bruins led by as many as 21 points after that.
"When you play teams that slow you down, it's going to help you in the long run," Shipp said.
UCLA missed 12 of its first 16 shots, but wound up going 27-of-50 (54 percent) and outrebounded Sam Houston State 32-30. The Bearkats shot 26-of-57 (45.6 percent), including 2-of-16 from 3-point range.
The Bruins entered the game shooting just 59.8 percent from the free throw line, but made their first 10 and 12-of-13 in the first half. They finished 17-of-21 overall. The Bearkats were just 7-of-18 from the line.
UCLA didn't play like the nation's top-ranked team in taking a 35-29 halftime lead over Sam Houston State, preseason favorite to win the Southland Conference's West Division.
Plagued by several slow starts this season, the Bruins got off to another one as the Bearkats took a 9-2 lead in the opening four minutes behind five points by Bright and four by Shamir McDaniel.
"You're going to have games like this. We've got to come out with better intensity," Collison said. "We're playing good teams coming up, so we have to pick up the intensity."
Sam Houston State led 14-11 when Shipp's first two baskets and Afflalo's only field goal of the first half put the Bruins on top for the first time. They led the rest of the way.
UCLA is one of four unbeaten teams in the Top 25, along with No. 8 Wichita State (9-0), No. 14 Connecticut (9-0) and Oregon (10-0).