LOS ANGELES — Poly finally played at Pauley.
It was the game everyone was waiting for since the Cal Poly men’s basketball schedule was first announced, 55 years since the Mustangs’ last appearance in Westwood.
And even though UCLA (4-4) earned a 72-61 win at its historic Pauley Pavilion with a dominant performance from 6-foot-10, 310-pound freshman center Joshua Smith, the Mustangs (6-1) left in a good mood.
Most of them did, anyway.
“I’m upset about the outcome,” said senior forward Shawn Lewis, who scored 13 points of 6-of-15 shooting from the field. “I actually think we could have beat this team.
“Morale in the locker room wasn’t the normal morale of losing a game. We were kind of upbeat, but me personally, I felt like we should have won the game, and I’m hungry right now.”
With no answer for his girth inside, Smith gouged Cal Poly for 19 points and 12 rebounds, including eight offensive. In all, the Bruins outscored the Mustangs 17-2 in second-chance points.
After Cal Poly took a four-point lead within the first four minutes, neither team was able to grow a bigger lead until UCLA went up 29-23 with 3:44 left before the break.
The Bruins led 34-26 at the half when big men Smith, Reeves Nelson and Brendan Lane combined to score 27 of those points almost exclusively in the paint.
When UCLA continued to pound the ball inside, it opened up 3-point opportunities in turn, which the Bruins exploited to stake themselves to a 17-point lead with 11:14 left in the second half.
The aspect the game that upset Lewis was the very same that had his teammates and coaches leaning toward the positive: Four-and-a-half minutes later, Cal Poly had cut the lead to seven.
“We’d score and then we’d come down and give up baskets,” Lewis said. “Every time we got close, we gave up baskets. We needed to get stops. That’s a crucial part of the game, and that’s why we lost.”
David Hanson had a team-high 18 points on 6-of-15-shooting and five rebounds, and Chris O’Brien pitched in with 10 points for Cal Poly.
Nobody else had more than four for the Mustangs, but freshmen Maliik Love, Jamal Johnson and Ryan Pembleton combined for 11 points in 46 combined minutes on one of the most famous floors in the country.
UCLA hangs 11 NCAA Division I basketball championship banners in the rafters, nine of which were won after Pauley Pavilion opened its doors in 1965. Just as the building is undergoing construction to its exterior, so is head coach Joe Callero’s program.
Pembleton scored his first career point for Cal Poly on a free throw in the second half and grabbed a rebound in 11 minutes, his most extended playing time of the season.
“He gave us length, something we don’t have very much of,” Callero said. “Didn’t he look like he belonged by flying around there having some length as a freshman? You have to project what he’s going to look like in the next two or three years.”
In his second season guiding Cal Poly, Callero called it a victory for the program to play a competitive game against such a storied program, making a comeback when the team had let previous scores against Loyola Marymount and Montana State get out of reach in the second half.
He also understood how Lewis, who had already played in games at USC and Wisconsin in his college career, could feel like one had gotten away.
“Eventually, we have to get three or four of those seniors that have been there through that and were raised through the program,” Callero said, “not a guy and a freshman backcourt.”
Despite UCLA getting its lead back out to double digits by the four-minute mark, the Mustangs continued to attack.
O’Brien hit a 3-pointer from 24 feet, Hanson hit another from another foot or two beyond that. Hanson even launched a last-second 3 that could have cut the final spread to eight.
It might not have been a victory, but heading into another tough matchup Monday against No. 14 San Diego State, the highest- ranked opponent in Cal Poly history, it bought the Mustangs some confidence.
“We just wanted to compete until the buzzer sounded,” Hanson said. “We’re out here for 40 minutes, and all 40, we’re not going to let up. I wouldn’t say it’s a moral victory, but we feel like we can play at this level.
“We feel as a team, maybe knocking down a shot here, getting another a stop there, we’re right in the mix.”