By Jon Gold
Tyler Honeycutt stood frozen, his hand prone in perfect follow-through position as his UCLA basketball teammates sprinted into the locker room.
He wasn’t going anywhere.
He was going to savor the moment.
Honeycutt hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the half to put the Bruins up 40-24 over the University of the Pacific in the second game of the NIT Season Tip-Off West Regional, capping off an impressive 11-4 run to close the half.
The clutch 3-pointer put Honeycutt at 13 points for the half, along with seven rebounds and two assists.
More importantly, Honeycutt had just one turnover, reversing a startling trend from the team’s first two games, when he had 12.
UCLA head coach Ben Howland has been lenient on Honeycutt early, knowing that his best athlete will fill up a stat sheet, sometimes too full.
“He obviously knows when he’s turning the ball over,” Howland said. “Except for that one that almost got away, he’s a very good passer. It’s singles. It’s doubles. It’s not going for the home run.”
The Bruins already have a cleanup hitter.
Sophomore power forward Reeves Nelson continues to dominate offensively, finishing with 17 first-half points against the Tigers.
Using his left hand deftly, Nelson worked the interior, finishing layups with precision.
With 37 points in two games coming in, Nelson is rewarding his teammates – and Howland’s – faith in him.
“I really have a lot of confidence with Reeves with the ball in his hands,” Howland said.
Smith Finding His Own
Though not a factor early on, UCLA freshman center Joshua Smith showed what all the preseason hype was about against Pepperdine in a 79-69 win on Monday night.
Smith had all 13 of his points in the second half against the Waves, including 11 – and four offensive rebounds – in a four-minute spurt.
“I was just more aggressive,” Smith said. “First half, I was kinda out there, played OK, flashing, asking for the ball but not demanding it. When we started getting the ball inside, they collapsed. The more they get it inside, the more opportunities that will open up.”
Smith was similarly ineffective in the first half against the Tigers, held to zero points in five minutes after picking up two fouls.
UCLA came out a bit sloppy against the Waves on Monday, and both Howland and Nelson inferred that it had something to do with the uncommon routine, with tip-off at 8 p.m.
Though the Bruins started 30 minutes later against Pacific on Tuesday, though, they had no such difficulties.
“A lot of it, when we came out, was our routine was kind of messed up,” Nelson said.”(It was) playing on TV the first time, the bright lights, and not really being prepared for that, combined with not playing that well to begin with.”