UCLA falls to energized San Diego State

December 2, 2012

Anaheim, Calif. –  The reeling 24th-ranked UCLA Bruins (5-3) lost 78-69 to the 21st-ranked San Diego State Aztecs (5-1) before 17,204 fans at the Wooden Classic in a game that provided an exciting and surprising Saturday night for college basketball.

The veteran Aztecs had won 4 straight games coming into to the matchup, with their latest win at USC, 66-60.  The Bruins on the other hand had recently seen the departure of talented center Josh Smith, who had quit the team, and had suffered a humiliating home defeat last week to CS San Luis Obispo.

The fact that two top 25 teams would provide excitement was not the surprise.  The intensely pro-Aztec crowd was.

UCLA likely didn’t envision the Wooden Classic ever being a road game like this.  Sure the game is technically never a typical home game like the ones they play at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.  But going a little south down to Orange County – Anaheim to be exact – to play at the Honda Center was a relatively easy commute for Bruin fans.  Hence the game had always provided the Bruins with a comfortable homecourt advantage.

Unfortunately for UCLA, the Aztecs, unlike most teams that have participated in the Wooden Classic against the Bruins, are reasonably local too.  Orange County is the county that sits between Los Angeles and San Diego Counties.   San Diego State alumni and students, excited by an unusually talented Aztec team’s rare opportunity to make a statement on the national stage, made the roughly two-hour commute to make their presence felt.

They certainly did just that.  Make no mistake, this game sounded like a San Diego State home game  almost all night.  At least 75% of the crowd was pro-Aztec but they provided nearly all of the crowd noise and energy in the stands.  And it made a huge difference throughout the night against a young Bruin team that had no experience playing in such an environment.  Spurred on by their crowd, San Diego State outhustled the Bruins all night and played with greater intensity.

SDSU coach Steve Fisher - who happens to look a lot like John Wooden himself - was not being gratuitous in anyway when he opened his press conference by thanking the fans. 

UCLA Freshman Shabazz Muhammad acknowledged, "It was hard to play out there.  A lot of the crowd was erupting. Their fans went out with a bang."

And UCLA coach Ben Howland  flatly characterized it as "a hostile environment" for his team and noted how unusual it was to be "playing a road game wearing a white (home) jersey."

The Aztec fans came with consistent energy and creative chants all night.  Besides the standard “Let’s go Aztecs,” the crowd was filled with zingers:

To the UCLA players: “You should transfer…"

To the UCLA fans:  “Where’s your students?!

To Aztec players who committed a foul: “Hit him again, hit him again! Harder, harder!

A little more silly was the SDSU chant regarding the obscure (now) 26-game winning streak SDSU has against California teams and their (now) 12-game winning streak against Pac 12 teams: “We run Cali…” 

It was amusing to watch UCLA coach Ben Howland's restrained and polite reaction as seemingly pro-Aztec media asked him to comment on whether SDSU was the best "program" in California. "Their are a lot of good programs in California," Howland noted, before graciously praising the Aztec program.

Although the schools have played 22 times, San Diego State had not beaten UCLA since 1940. SDSU fans certainly have a great deal to be excited about with this year's team, and indeed they might be the best college basketball team in California this year.  However, it will take a few serious runs in the NCAA tournament and few more wins over the Bruins before they can claim any meaningful triumph over the state.

In truth, the first half of the game was sloppily played with neither team able to get into much of rhythm offensively.   The score was only 31-29 at halftime.  Sophomore guard Norman Powell and Shabazz Muhammad each had 8 points in the first half for the Bruins. Senior forward Deshawn Stephens scored 8 and star junior guard Jamaal Franklin was held to 7 for the Aztecs .

But in the second half both teams played substantially better.

UCLA freshman guard Jordan Adams hit three 3s in the first three minutes after halftime to set the tone for a high tempo second half.  Adams finished the night with a team-leading 23 points.  But the Bruins were not able to do much more than keep pace with the Aztecs during the early stretch of the second half. 

Franklin matched the increased intensity by exploding for 21 points in the second half.  He finished with 28 points including an emphatic breakaway dunk late in the second half that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Franklin was aided by junior guard Xavier Thames who went 5-6 from beyond the arc on his way to 19 points.

The UCLA portion of the crowd finally woke up when the Bruins cut the lead to five, 69-64, with a few minutes remaining.  But Franklin iced the game by hitting 9 out of 10 free throws late. 

When the final buzzer sounded, Franklin very appropriately tossed the basketball into a crowd of rabid SDSU students.  They  certainly deserved the game ball.
Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

1 comment:

  1. I was at the game and the Aztec crowd was loud!


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