Here’s my early gamer for tonight’s game, and I’ll have more thoughts tomorrow…
Going from a last-place finish in last season’s Pac-10 run to a 10-2 start this season, Washington State became the new darling of the Pac-10, with some saying the Cougars could eve compete for the conference championship.
Meanwhile, the UCLA basketball team was chided despite an 8-4 start, relegated to also-ran status because of a loss to Montana and less-than-convincing wins over UC Irvine, UC Davis and Pepperdine.
Perhaps the pundits were premature.
UCLA lead early, stumbled a bit and then picked it right back up, breaking away from the Cougars late with an 80-71 win on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion in both teams’ conference openers.
After losing an early lead and then some, a two-point advantage becoming an 11-point deficit in less than three minutes, UCLA wrestled control back from Washington State early in the second half, Pauley Pavilion rocking once more, louder than it’s been in two years.
All it took to wrestle back the lead? A little wrestling.
The Bruins retook control in the second half after a 3-point barrage by Honeycutt, Jones and Lee put the team on top by four with 13:34 remaining, but then sophomore forward Reeves Nelson took to the mat.
Nelson had nine of UCLA’s next 13 points as the team stretched the lead to nine.
Nelson and Lee each finished with 21 points and Tyler Honeycutt added 14 for the Bruins, who move to 9-4 with their sixth straight win.
“I like when it’s distributed, like (it was against) BYU,” Honeycutt said. “Our whole starting five is in double-figures, which is a good thing. We can hurt you in many different ways. It’s not like there is one key guy you can key in on.”
The same can’t be said about Washington State and junior guard Klay Thompson, who leads the Pac-10 in scoring.
Thompson hit a out-from-nowhere running 3-pointer to give the Cougars’ their first lead of the game at 23-22 with just under seven minutes left in the first half, after the Bruins maintained a steady lead early. Thompson would add another 3-pointer and four free throws and backup Faizel Aden hit back-to-back deep shots, including a 3-pointer, during a 19-9 run to end the first half.
“We’d rather have the other guys have to beat us,” Honeycutt said of Thompson. “He’s going to get a lot more assists being a good player; he draws a lot of attention. But our main focus is to contain him, but also not let someone else go off for a lot of points, because we tend to do that sometimes.”
Like they did last year, when point guard Reggie Moore went off for 24 points at Pauley Pavilion in a 74-62 UCLA win on Jan. 23.
On Wednesday there would be no such Moore magic, as he had just five points.
The Bruins hope to find similar success on Friday at Pauley Pavilion against Washington, which needed overtime to defeat USC on Wednesday.
“We always put the focus on us; if we have mental lapses, it’s always on us,” said junior guard Lazeric Jones, who added 10 points and a career-high 11 assists. “To have a lead like we did, and to basically let them in the game, that’s something that can’t happen during conference play.