Well, they played sloppy, made lots of mistakes, and the offense looked horrible at times, but UCLA was still able to come up with a win. Sound familiar? That’s pretty much been the MO for the Bruins over the past few months. The wins haven’t been pretty, but they’ve been there, as the Bruins defeat Oregon 64-54 for their 8th win in 9 games. The Bruins made several errors, especially in the first half, where they seemed to struggle with the Oregon zone press (much like they did in last Saturday’s win over St. Johns.) In the second half, however, the Bruins started to figure out the Duck defense and get into a rhythm offensively. As a result, some clutch baskets late in the second half and a few offensive spurts helped the Bruins put away the Ducks away in the last few minutes.
One interesting thing about this Bruin team is that it seems like they have a different player step up and be the star almost every night. This season has seen Reeves Nelson, Lazeric Jones, Tyler Honeycutt, Joshua Smith, and Jerime Anderson each take their turn as the Bruin’s leading scorer and most important offensive player. Tonight, it was Malcolm Lee’s turn, scoring 25 points on 10-19 shooting, much of it coming in the second. While Lee has been their most consistent wing defender, its nice to see him get into an offensive groove and his skills and intellect should carve a nice role for him going forward as a zone buster.
Other game notes:
-Perhaps the most talked about play in the game came in the final minute after the game was already won. Reeves Nelson was seeking a fastbreak dunk with 23 seconds left and was send to the floor by a hard foul by the frustrated Jay-R Strowbridge. While Nelson was uninjured, he got up to stare down Strowbridge before the two were separated. Some would question the intellect of going for a showy fastbreak dunk after the game was over instead of just wasting the clock, but it seemed like it was simply a response to the fact that Oregon continued to press in garbage time. I’m not an expert lip reader, but it seemed to me that after the game in the handshake line, Oregon coach Dana Altman apologized to Ben Howland for the foul and Howland responded by saying “We shouldn’t have shot it.”
-The bad news for the Bruins in this game was the fact that Joshua Smith once again was limited by foul trouble, resulting in him just playing 12 minutes and scoring only 5 points. While the move to have him come off the bench for Anthony Stover seemed to relieve this problem immensely in the past few months (especially in Smith’s 19-point outing against St. Johns), foul trouble plagued him again this game as he was limited to only 12 minutes and only ended up with 5 points. Smith is a matchup nightmare for most other teams and arguably the Bruin’s most important player, and it’s going to be much harder for the team to overcome his absence if he gets into foul trouble against teams that are more talented than Oregon.
-There was lots of sloppy play on both sides of the ball. While the Bruin defense was much improved in the second half, its unclear how much of that was the Bruins’ effort and how much of it was just bad shot selection and sloppy offensive play by the Ducks. To the Bruins’ credit, Oregon’s star Joevan Cattron was largely held in check, scoring just 15 points on 5-13 shooting.
-Tyler Lamb is incredibly out of sync offensively and it seemed like the offense moved to a screeching halt whenever he was in the game. It’s getting a bit late in the season for Lamb to figure it out and become a key player, but if he can start to become more consistent offensively it would mean wonders for the Bruin’s depth going forward.
-Tyler Honeycutt seems to have lost most of his scoring ability ever since his 33 point outing against Kansas. That being said, the other assets of his game have been constantly improving. Despite only scoring 5 points on 2-9 shooting in this game, he ended up with 6 assists and his passing and play-making ability was a key factor in breaking down the Oregon zone press in the second half. In addition, he grabbed a game high 13 rebounds as he spent much of his time at the 4 spot, where he is learning to become more and more effective.
-The other key to the game was rebounding, as UCLA outrebounded the Ducks 39-24. This included 5 offensive boards by Anthony Stover, who is starting to come into his own and has completely replaced Brendan Lane (who didn’t even come into the game) in the rotation.
-On the other side of the country, St. John’s blew out 9th-ranked UConn, helping UCLA’s RPI tremendously. Since St. John’s is one of the Bruins’ two signature wins (along with BYU), UCLA’s tournament chances and seeding depend a lot on how much success the Red Storm have in the remainder of Big East play. In case Bruin fans were feeling nostalgic for the days of rooting for a Steve Lavin-coached team, they now get a chance for one more year!
-Bruin fans who turned to TNT after the game was over to watch the rest of the Nuggets/Mavericks game were treated to a familiar sight – Arron Afflalo hitting a game winner as time expired.
In summation, the Bruins are currently looking like a lock for the big dance provided they don’t have any bad losses in their remaining 7 games. A loss on Saturday to Oregon State would be exactly that, so hopefully the Bruins come out ready to play and are able to get the win. (It would be a nice bonus if the win wasn’t sloppy and close, but they’ll take what they can get.)
About the Author
Written by Josh Lehmer
2009 UCLA graduate. Worked at NBC-Los Angeles from 2008-2009, then as ESPN Production Assistant. Fan of the UCLA Bruins, Lakers, Angels, Ducks.