UCLA head coach Ben Howland called it a great win, and his players followed suit, everything hunky-dory in the Bruins’ locker room.
This, after UCLA needed overtime to defeat a downtrodden Arizona State squad, just 1-8 in Pac-10 play, after holding a 15-point lead.
Great sure means something different for these Bruins.
UCLA eked out the 73-72 overtime win on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena, moving to 6-3 in Pac-10 games, despite letting the Sun Devils catch fire in the second half.
“Absolutely it’s a great win,” Howland said. “Absolutely. 100 percent. Every win is great. Every win is hard-fought. Every win you get in the Pac-10 is a great win, trust me.”
UCLA opened with a small lineup to counter Arizona State’s, and it paid off early and it paid off late.
The three-guard unit of point guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson and shooting guard Malcolm Lee helped the Bruins to a 13-point halftime lead as they were able to frustrate the Sun Devils.
But the Bruin backcourt blossomed once more in overtime, the three junior guards each hitting 3-pointers that kept Arizona State at bay.
“Coming out of regulation, we just said it’s a new game,” Jones said. “Let everything go that happened in the first two halves, come out and play hard. Try to come in and play like it’s the first half of the game.”
Jones’ 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring gave UCLA a 64-61 lead to open the overtime period, providing the cushion that the Bruins would need. Coming off a season-worst 0-for-7 performance in UCLA’s 85-74 loss at Arizona on Thursday night, Jones was clutch throughout the game for the Bruins, atoning for four turnovers with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“Really I was just trying to come out and play my game today,” Jones said. “I felt like last game, I was a little sped up. I didn’t play my game, the game the coaching staff knows I can play. I wanted to come out calm and relaxed.”
And that’s how UCLA came out of the game to open the game, committing 10 turnovers in just over 10 minutes.
If the Sun Devils could have even hit their easiest attempts, perhaps the Bruins would not have had such a big lead to cough up.
UCLA held Arizona State to 20 percent shooting in the first half, the Sun Devils making just six-of-30 shots and zero-of-5 3-pointers, in their worst scoring half of the season. With leading scorer Ty Abbott on the bench for most of the first half with three fouls, the Sun Devils broke down on the perimeter, failing to hit from behind the arc in a half for the first time this season.
Arizona State kept that game within reach, though, finally making a big push with just more than eight minutes left and the Bruins up 10. The Sun Devils shot 57.1 percent, making six-of-seven 3-point attempts, while holding the Bruins to 0-8 from behind the arc in the second half.
“We’re not going to hold a team like that to 20 percent for the whole game,” Howland said. “They did a much better job, got some open looks in the second half, ended up shooting 57 percent. … They really hurt us in transition, and part of it is we probably got a little tired.”
Howland stuck with the small lineup late, keeping freshman center Joshua Smith on the bench for the duration of overtime. Sophomore forwards Reeves Nelson (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Tyler Honeycutt (12 points, 10 boards) manned the post for the Bruins, who led the rebounding battle by 10 at one point, but finished with just a 42-38 margin.
It did not help Smith’s cause that after he got caught complaining to the referees after a no-call on the offensive end, McMillan got a quick 3-pointer for Arizona State, cutting the UCLA lead to 49-44.
“I just felt like the guys who were in there were better for us defensively,” Howland said. “He thought he got fouled on that one play, and he’s not hustling back and they hit a three because we’re playing five-on-four. That just can’t happen.”