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Northwestern blown away by UCLA without Drew Crawford

Northwestern’s Alex Olah puts pressure guard Kyle Anders(16 points nine rebounds nine assists four steals) Friday Las Vegas. | Ethan

Northwestern’s Alex Olah puts pressure on guard Kyle Anderson (16 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, four steals) on Friday in Las Vegas. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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Updated: November 30, 2013 1:13PM

LAS VEGAS — Northwestern’s 95-79 loss to 19th-ranked UCLA on Friday night in the Las Vegas Invitational brought into focus where the program wants to go, how to get there and how far it is from that destination.

The difference between the teams, a tournament-bound Bruins squad and a Northwestern unit with that as a long-term goal, was far greater than the 16-point margin of defeat.

The Bruins had talent, pace and athleticism that Wildcats coach Chris Collins believes he has on the way to Northwestern, but that has yet to arrive.

In the meantime, UCLA is traveling by race car and the Wildcats by horse and buggy. Playing a close game against a storied program such as UCLA’s still is far off for Collins’ bunch.

A quick fix after seven games would have been a little unrealistic, anyway.

An angry Collins yelled at UCLA coach Steve Alford after the game, apparently because he felt the Bruins ran up the score.

Northwestern’s best player, Drew Crawford, missed the game because of back spasms, which first bothered him on the flight to Las Vegas. The spasms were exacerbated when he made a move early in Thursday’s loss to Missouri and got worse when he was landed on later in the second half.

Up until tipoff, Crawford was a game-time decision.

JerShon Cobb picked up his second foul a minute into the game. With Crawford and Cobb out, Collins had no one he could rely on to consistently score.

Alford can count on nine guys for offense, including his son Bryce, who led the Bruins with 11 first-half points off the bench. Bryce, a true freshman, finished with 18 on 7-for-9 shooting.

Then again, he benefitted from having potential NBA talent around him. The Bruins shot 63.6 percent overall and hit 13 of 16 three-pointers (81.3 percent). Guard Kyle Anderson scored 16 on 6-for-9 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, passed out nine assists and made four steals.

Nate Taphorn, Northwestern’s only true freshman, got his first start in place of the injured Crawford and went 1-for-4 from the field. Cobb scored 22, hitting seven of 12 shots, and Kale Abrahamson chipped in 19 off the bench.

The game was like the wealthiest guy at the poker table trying to muscle out the player with the shortest stack. Alford knew the Cats lacked depth, so he threw his talent-laden roster at Collins, who had little to put in the pot.

Envy is likely the best characterization for what Collins must have felt as he searched for — and never found — the right combination to play with the Bruins.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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