UCLA’s 79-69 win over Pepperdine last night was probably closer than it should’ve been – and if not for early and late turnovers, it would’ve been – but the Bruins got a good look at the potential of this offense.
For the first time in four games – I’m counting the exhibitions, even though I probably shouldn’t – UCLA shifted its style midway through a game, and really got a good dose of Joshua Smith.
So much of Smith’s high school domination was related to his size, and it really is impossible to ignore. People wondered what he would look like on the court, compared to older, more developed talent. He remains a beast.
Granted, Pepperdine is not a very talented team, returning nearly all its players from a 7-24 team.
But UCLA was feeding Smith, really going to him for an extended period of time. He responded.
With just under 11 minutes left in the game, Smith hit a free throw. Then he had a nice dunk. Then he grabbed an offensive rebound, and another offensive rebound and ensuing layup. Less than a minute later, another offensive rebound, another attempt, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws. Then another offensive rebound, another layup, offensive rebound and two more baskets, the last coming at 7:13.
In a span of about three-and-a-half minutes, Smith had 11 points and four offensive rebounds, and those two are tied together. When a big man does the dirty work inside, the perimeter players notice and reward him.
Smith wasn’t perfect – the fouls have to be cut drastically, especially with UCLA having only eight scholarship players available – but for the first time this year, he’s been highly effective. As a result, things opened up on the outside as well.
There were so many dimensions to the UCLA offense last night. Zeke Jones and Tyler Honeycutt driving. Smith and Reeves Nelson in the post. Honeycutt and Nelson transition, and even 3-point shooting from Brendan Lane, whose two threes were crucial.
Clearly, UCLA will face bigger and better bigs as the season progresses, but last night the Bruins showed different layers to the offense, and if that keeps up, they’ll be in good shape.