LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lowell Cabbil Jr. and Liberty were confident going into Saturday's game against UCLA that they could be another mid-major team to pull off an upset at Pauley Pavilion.
The Flames just didn't upset the Bruins. Liberty dominated them en route to a 73-58 victory in what UCLA coach Steve Alford called the most disappointing loss in his 28 years of coaching.
"We saw what Belmont did (in beating UCLA 74-72 on Dec. 15). When you get another mid-major team coming in and getting the upset, you kind of get the belief that it is possible," said Cabbil, who scored 15 points and had five steals.
The Flames (11-4), who tied a school record for most wins during their non-conference schedule, led most of the game. The Bruins (7-6) close nonconference play with four straight losses — the first time that has happened since 2009-10. The last time they lost back-to-back home games against non-Power Five programs was 2012-13.
"They whipped us in just about every category. They played hard, tough and smart. I give them incredible praise," Alford said. "Our execution was extremely poor at both ends. I'm just extremely disappointed with how we played."
Liberty came into the game as one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country but was 8 of 24 from behind the arc. What won the game was its defense. The Flames, who came into the game 16th nationally in scoring defense allowing 61.5 points per game, forced 24 turnovers, including 12 steals, which led to 32 points.
"When we got the stops we need it helped our offense," said Liberty guard Caleb Homesley, who scored 21 points "We were able to get into the gaps and force turnovers."
Liberty coach Ritchie McKay added that he learned a lot from watching the Belmont tape, especially when it came to exploiting UCLA's youth.
"It think maybe it showed how inexperienced they are. They're good but our team was confident," McKay said. "I felt like we had a chance if we could be within striking distance."
The Flames took control with seven straight points to end the first half, as UCLA committed three turnovers in the final two minutes, and held a 34-26 lead at halftime.
Liberty would go on an11-4 run at the start of the second half. A Homesley 3-pointer with 12:02 remaining gave the Flames a 50-34 advantage when UCLA started to cut into the lead.
UCLA got within 56-50 with 5:28 remaining on a pair of Jules Bernard free throws before the Flames put it out of each, going on a 13-2 run as they held their largest lead at 69-52 with under three minutes remaining.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 14 points and Moses Brown added 11.
Liberty: It is the Flames first win against the Pac-12 as they improve to 1-2 against conference teams. This was the first time it has faced UCLA. It is McKay's second win over UCLA. He defeated the Bruins in 1999 when he was the coach at Colorado State, but that game was at a neutral site.
UCLA: The Bruins are definitely limping into Pac-12 play. They have lost their last four by an average margin of 15 points.
When asked how much he could fix in less than a week, Alford's frustration showed.
"When you talk about pass, shoot, dribble, catch, I don't know. I guess we'll have to watch the tape and see exactly where those issues are. How we dribble, how we pass, how we catch. It's seventh-grade stuff, but we have to go back to some drills I used to do as a player in middle school," he said.
IN THE PAINT
UCLA dominated the boards (44-27) and had an 18-4 advantage in second-chance points but Liberty outscored the Bruins 34-28 in the paint.
QUOTE OF NOTE
"We played Georgetown, Alabama and Vanderbilt. We've had a challenging nonconference schedule so we weren't coming in here overwhelmed." McKay said.
Liberty: Open Atlantic Sun play on Jan. 5 at Florida Gulf Coast
UCLA: Open Pac-12 play on Thursday when it hosts California.