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UCLA 76, UC Irvine 65

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- UCLA is getting into a winning habit under
second-year coach Ben Howland after ending last season with six
straight losses.

Aaron Afflalo scored four of his 14 points in the final 3:03 and
Dijon Thompson clinched it with three free throws in the waning 52
seconds as the Bruins held off stubborn UC Irvine for a 76-65
victory Saturday.

Thompson and Jordan Farmar also had 14 points each for UCLA, off
to its first 3-0 start since 1999-00. Center Michael Fey scored all
13 of his points in the first half and grabbed nine rebounds.

"I feel more confident about this team," Fey said. "We
started 2-0 last year, and then we did a complete flop. Our
chemistry is better and we know the coach is better. I think we're
a lot deeper than we were last year. We've got a lot more weapons
and we can play eight or nine guys. Last year we could play six or
seven -- maybe."

The Bruins' three victories have come against teams that were a
combined 26-62 last season. A win Tuesday night against Long Beach
State at Pauley Pavilion would give them their first 4-0 start
since 1994-95, when they won their first six games, finished with a
31-1 record under coach Jim Harrick and captured their 11th NCAA
championship.

"It's just a matter of time for them," Irvine coach Pat
Douglass said. "Ben's an excellent coach. They've got their game
plan and their formula and how they're going to get back to the
glory years. You can just see the foundation being established over
there."

The Bruins should be even better once they get their motion
offense in gear.

"We haven't really run at all," said Farmar, who turns 18 on
Tuesday. "Today we tried it a little bit today, but it was a
little stagnant. There's not much continuity, but that will come
from running it every day at practice."

Aaron Fitzgerald scored 17 points for Irvine (1-2). The
Anteaters are 9-27 against Pac-10 teams and haven't beaten anyone
from the conference since a 65-55 victory at Washington on Dec. 28,
2000.

Irvine's Jeff Gloger, who played 14 scoreless minutes in the
first half, had 11 points in the second half. He opened the final
20 minutes with a 15-footer and a driving layup before the
Anteaters narrowed the gap to 52-49 with 8:58 remaining on
consecutive jumpers by Gloger, Ross Schraeder and Shamar Armstrong.

"Jeff played with more quickness in the second half. So at that
position, on a wing, a lot of times he's going to be quicker than
his opponent," Douglass said. "It was good to see him step up,
because he had been struggling a little bit the last two
ballgames."

UCLA responded to Irvine's rally with a 12-4 run, restoring
their double-digit margin to 64-53 with 5:16 left. Thompson made a
3-pointer, Brian Morrison barely beat the shot clock with another
three, and Farmar's fast-break layup ended a string of eight
straight Bruins points that helped keep the pesky Anteaters at bay.

"I like the way our kids were scrapping," said Douglass, whose
team held a 38-34 rebounding advantage over a team that
outrebounded its first two opponents by a combined total of 90-45.
"It would have been nice if after we cut it to three, we could
have gotten tied it up, just to see what we would have done."

Irvine (1-2) held the lead only once -- after Schraeder opened
the scoring with an 18-foot jumper that just beat the shot clock 38
seconds after the opening tip. UCLA led 40-18 at halftime after
Farmar made a nice fake on Fitzgerald and hit a 3-pointer with 1.6
seconds on the clock, restoring the Bruins' biggest lead of the
game.

"We did a much better job taking care of the basketball today
and we made our foul shots," said Howland, whose team outscored
Irvine 21-7 at the free throw line. "But our play on the boards
was very disappointing and it's something we have to get better at.
Our offense got stagnant at times and we were going one-on-one too
much."

The Bruins, who had committed 40 turnovers in the first two
games made just three before intermission and 11 total. The
Anteaters committed nine of their 17 turnovers in the first half
and finished 40-for-17 from 3-point range.

Freshman Lorenzo Mata played his first game for UCLA after
sitting out the first two because of a sprained left ankle he
injured in practice in Nov. 19. Mata, part of a recruiting class
rated among the top 10 in the nation, played seven scoreless
minutes with a rebound and a blocked shot.