LOS ANGELES - The UCLA Bruins came out nervous at the prospect of performing in front of the players who helped make the school into one of college basketball’s most storied programs.
They were shaky at the end, too, but came away with a 64-58 victory against Michigan State on Saturday after the Bruins’ floor was named in honor of John Wooden and his late wife, Nell.
“We really wanted to get the win for coach Wooden,” said senior T.J. Cummings, who scored 13 points in his first start of the season. “It motivated us to come out and be even more aggressive. It was a pride thing. We got to make sure we come out and represent right.”
The players got into the spirit of the occasion by wearing replica jerseys that read ‘Bruins’ instead of ‘UCLA’ to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the school’s first NCAA title under Wooden.
“I was kind of nervous putting up that first shot because I really wanted us to get off to a good start,” Cummings said.
Brian Morrison was relegated to the bench for the first time in six games to make way for Cummings, who became academically eligible Wednesday. Morrison added 11 points before he pulled his left hamstring with 3½ minutes remaining.
Morrison will be out about 2½ weeks, and had to cancel his plans to spend Christmas in Washington state so he can receive treatment, first-year coach Ben Howland said.
UCLA missed six of 10 free throws over the final 1½ minutes, leading to groans from the crowd of 12,433, the Bruins’ largest of the season. UCLA made 16 of 34 in the game.
“I don’t think I’ve ever missed that many free throws in a game,” said Cedric Bozeman, who was 1-of-9 from the line.
But the Spartans (4-5) weren’t any better from the field, managing just one field goal in the final 3½ minutes. Maurice Ager missed two 3-point attempts in the final minute, when the Spartans trailed by six points.
“The big shots just didn’t land when we needed them to,” Ager said.
With more than 70 of Wooden’s former players on hand, the current Bruins (4-2) showed they still have a ways to go before they can lay claim to the tradition built under Wooden. UCLA won 10 national championships, including seven in a row, during Wooden’s 27-year tenure.
“I wanted our guys to feel the pride, tradition and history of this program,” Howland said. “It was really touching to see all of Coach’s former players here. We came out shaky, but they never gave up. That’s the attitude we’re learning here.”
Chris Hill scored 17 points and Paul Davis added 14 despite being in foul trouble for the Spartans, who can’t seem to get out of their recent funk. They lost consecutive games to Kentucky, Oklahoma and Duke before beating South Florida on Tuesday, and are 0-2 on the road.
“We feel desperate and should feel desperate to stop the skids,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m worried that our better players are not playing like they can and like they should play. We got to get some confidence back. It just hasn’t been there in the last couple of weeks.”
Wearing green apparel, Magic Johnson and wife Cookie cheered his alma mater from behind the Spartans’ bench.
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