Men's Hoops Holds on to Beat American
December 24, 1998
LOS ANGELES - Up until the last minute, No. 12 UCLA had to scramble to win a game it was supposed to control easily against a smaller, shorthanded opponent.
So there was little question in the mind of coach Steve Lavin that Wednesday night's 66-56 victory over American University was the Bruins' worst performance of the season.
Nevertheless, guard Earl Watson believes the hard-fought victory is going to help prepare UCLA (8-2) for the upcoming Pacific-10 Conference race, in which every night figures to be a grind.
"Young teams like ours can use these negatives and turn them into positives," said Watson, with 10 points one of four Bruins to finish in double figures. "I think we played to the level of competition, instead of playing UCLA basketball. We can learn from this game.
"This is just one game. This group is all together. I'm not worried. I believe in this group very strongly. We'll come back stronger now and get ready for conference. We learned a little bit more about what it's going to take to compete in the conference."
As far as Lavin's concerned, though, UCLA still has a lot to learn before the Pac-10 opener Jan. 2 against Arizona.
The Bruins shot only 46 percent (24-for-52) and were outrebounded, 41-32. They needed baskets by Baron Davis and freshman Jerome Moiso in the closing minutes as American (3-8) rallied from a 17-point deficit at halftime to close within six points.
"There was not much intensity, no passion and no enthusiasm," Lavin said. "Our defense didn't even carry us to our offense. We've had final exams and a lot of guys are looking forward to going home for Christmas, but that's not an excuse.
"We've had three-hour practices. Young guys like this should be able to run for days. The constants that have to be there all the time - intensity, energy, rebounding - none of them were there tonight."
Conversely, the Eagles learned they can play against the top teams in the nation on a given night, even under difficult circumstances.
American was missing its leading scorer, Bobby Thompson, who is on a personal leave. Reserve Matt Brown missed the game with sore knees and reserve Haseem Alexander was limited to three minutes because of a sore knee.
Freshman Patrick Doctor led the Eagles charge from a 36-19 halftime deficit by scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half. Doctor also had 12 rebounds.
After American closed to 54-48 with 3:16 left, Davis picked up a loose ball and converted a three-point play to give the Bruins a nine-point lead. With UCLA up 57-50 and 58 seconds left, Moiso hit a basket to seal the win.
"UCLA is such a good team, but we decided we didn't want to lay down against them," Doctor said. "We really thought we could win the game. I felt like crying when we didn't. We knew we could gain some respect if we had a good outing."
"This was the biggest game of our careers," said Saliou-Binet Telly, who finished with eight points. "I think we made an impression. I think this team learned a lot about itself through our performance."
Davis led UCLA with 11 points. Moiso and Ray Young added 10 points each.
The Bruins were missing center Dan Gadzuric, who has tendinitis in both knees.
Lavin said the fact UCLA had played only one game since Dec. 12 because of finals was also a concern. Lavin uncharacteristically put the Bruins through a one-hour practice Wednesday afternoon.
"We played like we had two games in one day," Lavin said. "This is a team that needs more time in the gym."
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