LOS ANGELES (AP) — Drexel coach Bruiser Flint was all smiles despite a 72-67 loss to No. 22 UCLA.
Flint watched his team, which has only three returning players from last season, overcome most of a 13-point deficit and push the Bruins to the brink in both teams’ season opener on Friday night.
“We had our chances. We put ourselves in the situation to win the game and we didn’t take advantage of that,” he said. “We have to give them credit because they made plays at the end of the game that we didn’t.”
Drexel gave itself an opportunity by outscoring the Bruins 36-30 in the second half. It was the first 20 minutes that proved costly.
The Dragons shot 9 of 30 from the field before halftime, one area that will undoubtedly get some attention at their next practice.
“We shot the ball terribly in the first half,” Flint said. “I was happy that we were only down by 11 points at halftime. I knew that if we came out and got off to a good start, which we did in the second half, we could put ourselves in the situation that we put ourselves in.
“We started tough but we battled back. I give my kids credit for that. In the end, UCLA made the big plays at the end of the game,” he said.
Jordan Adams led the Bruins with 16 points in Steve Alford’s debut as coach.
Zach LaVine and David Wear added 14 points each, and Kyle Anderson had 12 points, 12 rebounds and tied his career high with seven assists for the Bruins, who let an early 13-point lead dwindle to one with 2:19 to play.
Frantz Massenat scored 20 points, Damion Lee added 17 and Dartaye Ruffin had 13 rebounds for the Dragons, who traveled cross-country from Philadelphia to play a game that started at midnight EST.
There were plenty of empty seats for Alford’s first game since taking over from Ben Howland, fired in March after a 10-year run that included three consecutive Final Four appearances. Alford wasn’t a popular choice among boosters to take over a program that owns a record 11 national championships. He bailed out on New Mexico weeks after agreeing to a new 10-year deal.
“He got the job because he’s good at what he does,” Flint said. “They played tough. Steve mixed it up with the zone a little bit. I know they’re a little short-handed right now, but one thing that he does is put those guys in the right positions to make plays.”
The Dragons got within four six times in the second half before closing to 65-63 on a layup by Massenat with 2:45 to play. They cut it to one on another basket by Massenat.
After a pair of free throws by Adams, Chris Fouch airballed a 3-point attempt from the right sideline and Wear grabbed the rebound. Tony Parker, who rarely played as a freshman under Howland, took a pass from Norman Powell and dunked, extending UCLA’s lead to 70-65.
Lee’s layup had the Dragons trailing 70-67 and then Parker turned the ball over. The Dragons inbounded and the ball went through the legs of Kazembe Abif, with the Bruins pouncing for a held ball call. They regained possession, but freshman Bryce Alford, the coach’s son, missed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left.
Lee airballed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key with 5 seconds to go. The Dragons were forced to foul, sending Adams to the line. He made both for a 72-67 lead.
The Dragons never got off a final shot, and Abif turned the ball over as time expired.
“We lost this game in the beginning of the game when they got out to their lead, and then in the last few minutes when we didn’t get stops when we needed to,” Massenat said. “If we had come out like we know we can at the beginning of the game, we’d have been ahead. We would have been where we wanted to be in the game.”
The Bruins led 42-31 at halftime, with LaVine scoring 11 points off the bench. He was 3 of 4 from 3-point range, where UCLA shot 56 percent.
“For an opener, very pleased,” Alford said. “We got to create our own enthusiasm and excitement.”
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