LOS ANGELES - Pauley Pavilion is undergoing a major renovation.
So too, it would seem, is the UCLA men's basketball team.
And the Bruins can thank the Montana Grizzlies for pinpointing where the most work needs to be done.
The Griz were by far the tougher team on the court in their 66-57 win over the Bruins on Sunday. They were quicker, more focused on defense and better prepared for the game. The numbers bear it out:
n The Griz had a 36-24 edge in points in the paint.
n Montana had 12 second-chance points to 10 for the Bruins.
n The Griz had a 13-2 advantage in fast-break points.
"I was very disappointed with our effort, especially with how we played at Kansas," said UCLA coach Ben Howland, whose team was coming off a one-point loss at No. 4 Kansas last Thursday. "Maybe it was the long practice (Saturday), but I thought we were slow to pick things up. But we have no excuses."
Montana's zone defense had the Bruins looking befuddled at times. It's nothing new - assistant coach Bill Evans has fine-tuned it since he arrived in Missoula three years ago - but with no fewer than four players new to the program who see significant playing time, it's maybe a little ahead of schedule. The zone was a big reason the Bruins shot 31 percent from the field after shooting 49 percent in their first six games against competition like Kansas and Villanova.
"We did a poor job of attacking the zone and showed little patience," Howland said. "I probably should have spent more time (Saturday) preparing for the zone, but I didn't feel good about the practice at all."
What makes the zone so effective is the presence of Montana's twin towers - 6-foot-11 Brian Qvale and 7-foot Derek Selvig - clogging things up down low with the cat-quick Will Cherry hounding the ball on the perimeter.
"We work very hard on our zone," Qvale said. "That's something Coach Evans brought to us. It's something we pride ourselves on. When we get to shooters and keep them from penetrating, it works really well for us."
There was a point in the first half when the Griz could have folded, but instead bounced back. Montana led 14-7 before UCLA reeled off the next 10 points to take a 17-14 lead. But over the next five minutes, Qvale responded by scoring five points and a 3-pointer by Kareem Jamar knotted the score at 22-22. UCLA never led again.
"It shows we've come a long ways, but we still have a long ways to go," Qvale said. "We're a good team and we have to keep working hard everyday in practice. We have a young team and it was good to get a road win. It was a big one and it was something we definitely needed."
The Griz quickly expanded their lead to eight in the second half, the first time at 36-28 when Selvig led the fastbreak and fed Jordan Wood with a no-look pass for an easy layup. Cherry then poured fuel on the fire with six points in the 16-4 run that broke the game open.
Perhaps the key bucket was a 3-pointer by Cherry with 11:46 to play. Receiving the ball right in front of the Griz bench, coach Wayne Tinkle told Cherry, "Knock it down, baby boy."
He did, then thumped his chest as he retreated down the court.
"He's big time, he's big time," Tinkle said of his sophomore point guard. "He's one of the best athletes I've been around as far as our team goes. He's really starting to mature as far as leadership goes. We know he wears his heart on his sleeve. There was one time late when something didn't go his way and we had to corral him and say, ‘just get by it, keep playing.' When he sets the tone like that at both ends, guys step in and follow. He's our emotional and energetic leader."
Qvale, the only senior on the team, can see it as well.
"That's what we need him to do. He's a leader," Qvale said. "He's definitely great off the bounce and attacking. We try to give him the space to get in there and do what he does best."
What the Griz do with this win remains to be seen. Back in the 2003 season, the Griz scored an upset at Stanford and ended up getting thumped by Sacramento State in the first round of the Big Sky tournament. Last season, the Griz knocked off Oregon in Eugene and ended up going to the NCAA tournament.
"I said, ‘That's a great win, I'm really proud of you,'" Tinkle said of his talk to the team after Sunday's win. "I said, ‘Now, is there any reason we shouldn't take this attitude to Pocatello, to Bozeman, to Weber? We've had teams in the past that when they played somebody that doesn't have UCLA on their chest we play down a little bit. Let's make sure that doesn't happen. Let's remember the feeling.'"
And savor it, at least for a while.