The big man lumbered into the post-game press conference, bulky ice packs on both knees, a leg, an elbow.
On Saturday night, Joshua Smith had ice in his veins, too.
Smith showed a nasty streak as UCLA broke a four-game losing streak with a 72-61 win over Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion in front of 5,496.
When the 6-foot-10, 305-pound freshman center was fed in the paint, he feasted, using his massive frame to toy with the smaller Mustangs.
Smith had a career-high 19 points, hitting six-of-12 field goals and seven-of-nine free throws, and added 12 rebounds, including eight offensive. Smith imposed his will at times, particularly during a first-half, eight-minute run when he had nine points on a Cal Poly front court that measured 6-8, 6-5 and 6-4.
“A lot of times, when I get it in the post, I’m too passive,” Smith said. “You can ask (junior guard Jerime Anderson). He reminds me all the time. I look to pass instead of score a lot of times and they were telling me that when I get it sometimes, yeah it’s OK to pass, but I have a free shot.”
Smith’s first-half spurt coincided with the Bruins’ first run, as they went from a two-point deficit midway through the half to an eight-point halftime lead.
With Cal Poly (3-5) playing strictly zone defense, UCLA (4-4) found out early it would not be working the transition game that brought the Bruins success in a three-game winning streak to open the season.
“It’s definitely a focus, but it’s difficult when a team is playing zone to push the ball as much,” said Anderson, who had a crucial eight points and six assists, with zero turnovers, in 22 minutes off the bench. “They weren’t even rebounding on free throws. I don’t even think they were sending too many guys to the offensive glass, just to stop our transition game in general.”
The Mustangs were able to fluster the hurried Bruins early in the second half, as well, cutting the UCLA advantage to three early in the half. The Bruins gradually increased the lead back up to 17 as the inside-outside game began to thrive with Cal Poly collapsing on the post.
Smith and sophomore forwards Reeves Nelson (13 points in 25 minutes) and Brendan Lane (seven points, four blocks in 23 minutes) started to move the ball back outside, and UCLA guards got hot midway through the half.
Anderson had three straight baskets for the Bruins, including two 3-pointers, and a Tyler Honeycutt 3-pointer gave the Bruins the 17-point lead which dwindled to eight before UCLA closed it out.
“You always get a little confidence when you see the ball goes in the basket,” Anderson said. “That happened to me tonight. I’ve been working on my game, my shot. I know it’s going to come.”
With Smith patrolling the paint – and the Bruin backcourt actually giving him some opportunities – it could start happening more and more.
Especially if Smith stays true to character, and continues to be unselfish, though UCLA should hope the ice doesn’t thaw too much.
“Man, way too passive,” Anderson said of Smith. “This man could be the beast of all beasts in the whole country. We just have to get it in his head. ‘Bro, we need you to score in the post.'”