LOS ANGELES — Rod Barnes stretched his legs out and leaned back in his chair on the bench, crossing his arms behind head. The Cal State Bakersfield head coach fixed his eyes toward the ceiling of UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion as his center, Moataz Aly, jogged to the sideline.
Aly had just fouled out with 12 minutes left in the contest Wednesday night on a made 3-pointer by Alex Olesinski. It was all too apparent that the game had transformed since the first 20 minutes that had largely gone the Roadrunners’ way.
CSUB only lost by nine points, falling 75-66 to UCLA, but as Barnes said earlier this season, there are no moral victories. The Roadrunners (4-4) led for more than 14 minutes in the first half and by as much as nine before letting it slip away in the second half with 46 points allowed.
The Roadrunners flirted with a comeback when freshman Jarkel Joiner made two 3-pointers and then two free throws to pull CSUB within seven points with a minute and a half left. Joiner had a team-high 20 points in the loss.
“You always want to come out with a win,” Barnes said, “but I thought they gave a valiant effort and they made us proud as far as our program. ”
On Tuesday, one day before the game, Roadrunners forward Shon Briggs said he wanted to get out to a quick start like the team did at Arizona earlier in the year. Barnes mentioned he wanted to slow down the game and not let it become a shootout.
CSUB did both in the opening minutes.
Joiner came into the night shooting 3-for-16 from 3, with all three made shots coming in the first game of the season. But he knocked down two in the first four minutes of Wednesday's contest — one coming off a screen and another after a drive and dish from guard Rickey Holden.
CSUB guard Damiyne Durham dropped down on all fours during UCLA’s player introductions, seemingly growling or barking toward the Bruin players. His aggressiveness didn’t stop when the game started, as he hit three 3s off the bench during a five-minute span. The second 3-pointer was a transition shot when he was outnumbered and the third came after he stared down his defender for a few seconds.
“We punched first and we kept it up the whole first half,” Briggs said.
Most importantly, CSUB didn’t allow a made field goal for a span of almost seven minutes. Its pressure-man defense forced the Bruins to hold the ball for an average of 17 seconds per possession in the first half. UCLA (6-1) was the 10th quickest offense in the country entering the game, averaging 14.2 seconds per possession.
The Bruins’ high-level offense scored just 29 points in the first half.
Barnes’ message at halftime was that UCLA was going to make a run: get through it.
The Bruins did as Barnes promised with a 3-pointer, a layup and a dunk. UCLA improved its 34.5 percent shooting from the first half to 56.7 in the second. CSUB did the opposite, going from 54.5 percent from 3 in the first to 18.2 percent in the second.
Durham was 1-for-9 from 3 in the second half and Holden was 1-for-5.
“We probably got better looks than we did in the first half,” Barnes said, “I just thought we missed the shots.”
CSUB’s misses gave the Bruins more chances to get out to quick baskets and avoid the Roadrunners’ pressure. The 17 seconds per possession turned into 13 and UCLA cashed in 10 fastbreak points.
Barnes had to bring in Justin McCall, Greg Lee and James Suber — who made his first appearance of the season after dealing with an injury — to relieve his “fatigued” players. With centers Aly and Fallou Ndoye in foul trouble, UCLA outscored CSUB, 44-16, in the paint.
Barnes mentioned on Tuesday that his ideal score for the game would be 74-68. The result wasn’t too far off at 75-66. His Roadrunners team was able to make a game out of a matchup with a team that was in the Top 25 one week ago.
“I’m happy with the way we played but, I mean, we didn't get the ‘W,’” Durham said. “That’s what we wanted. That’s what we came here to get. That’s what we needed.”
Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.