After UCLA’s 10-point win over Oregon on Thursday – a game in which the Bruins went down big only to storm back just as quick – head coach Ben Howland said he wanted one breather this season, a season that has been filled with more yo-yos than a novelty store.
Ten minutes into the Bruins’ matchup with Oregon State on Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion it looked like Howland could finally relax during a game.
And then the string dropped once more, Howland started sweating it out once more, and UCLA needed to gather itself once more, before winning its fifth straight with a 69-61 victory at Pauley Pavilion in front of 8,534.
But after a 14-18 record last year, Howland’s more than happy to dip down if the Bruins ultimately come back up, and they have, picking up their 15th win out of the last 18 games.
“We’re 17-0 when we have a ten-point lead,” Howland said. “The bottom line, at the end here, we’re trying to win the game.”
The Bruins jumped to a scorching start on Saturday, holding Oregon State to 2-of-16 shooting to open the game, and it looked like UCLA was finally turning over a new leaf.
They were choking out the Beavers, overpowering them with a frustrating perimeter defense that forced poor shot selection and drained the shot clock.
A Joshua Smith slam dunk and one on a beautiful Tyler Honeycutt bounce pass staked UCLA the 24-6 lead with just over eight minutes left in the first half.
They turned over a new leaf alright. Then again, what didn’t the Bruins turn over?
UCLA let the Beavers climb back with poor decision-making and even worse execution, finishing the first half with eight turnovers in the last eight minutes as Oregon State cut the lead to five at halftime.
“It would be nice if we could keep adding on to the lead,” said junior shooting guard Malcolm Lee, who scored a game-high 19 points. “Nobody wants to be scared at the end. We just gotta stay mentally tough, and just keep trying to hold them off. When we play more athletic teams, it’s gonna be harder, so we just gotta keep it going.”
With Tyler Honeycutt looking like a human fly-swatter, Lee was eventually able to breathe easy.
Honeycutt had eight blocks, the most for the Bruins since Jelani McCoy had 11 in Dec. 1995, to go along with nine points, five rebounds, five assists but seven turnovers. UCLA tied a school-record with 16 blocks for the game, simply denying the Beavers time after time.
But Oregon State killed the Bruins on the offensive glass, grabbing 24 of its 37 total rebounds on the offensive end, and attempted 31 more shots than UCLA.
“They had 24 offensive rebounds; that’s an area that we need to work on,” Howland said. “We’re not going to advance very far unless we do a better job blocking out.”
Blocking out, and closing out.
The Bruins rediscovered their momentum early in the second half, turning a 29-25 lead into a 22-point lead with just less than seven minutes left. But Oregon State would not simply fade away, a suffocating full-court press flustering the Bruins into a season-high 26 turnovers.
Even after Howland inserted UCLA’s walk-on reserves with a minute left, the Beavers kept up their pressure, forcing two immediate turnovers before Howland beckoned his starters back from their seats.
“I was glad that we could get them in,” Honeycutt said. “I was excited for them. It was almost kinda funny. They weren’t really prepared, and I’m sure they will be next time.”
That is, if there is a next time.
That is, if the yo-yo comes all the way back up again.