UCLA storms back, beats ASU 71-53

By Jon Gold
Staff Writer

After coming out asleep in the first half of its four-point overtime loss to Cal last Sunday, the UCLA men’/s basketball team vowed to set the tone early against Arizona State on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Only the guitar was missing two strings, the strings that were left were made out of glass, and the whole thing was painfully out of tune.

The Bruins shot 1-for-10 to start the game as the Sun Devils got easy bucket after easy bucket, making 7-of-8 shots to take an 11-point lead.

But it was nothing to fret over, as the Bruins atoned for a brutal first 10 minutes with a brilliant run, closing the first half with a 30-8 run before going on to the 71-53 win, their 11th in 13 games.

“This doesn’t feel like an 18-point win,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “I’m really happy we won by 18, but it just didn’t feel like it.”

For 10 minutes, UCLA wasn’t just out of sorts, it was bankrupt.

There might as well have been a brick wall in front of the UCLA rim, built by the Bruins themselves. The Bruins missed more gimmes than a down-on-his-luck golfer. UCLA started 6-of-20 shooting, easy layups looking like half-court heaves.

First the Bruins got frustrated, then they got irritated, then they got downright pissed.

When freshman center Joshua Smith threw down a haymaker dunk as the first-half was about to expire – receiving an emphatic chest-bump from teammate Reeves Nelson as the team walked off the court – the Bruins had made seven-of-eight and capitalized on Sun Devil turnover after Sun Devil turnover.

“Whenever Josh dunks – especially when he’s body to body with a guy – it’s going to get us all hyped up,” Nelson said. “I was glad he fought for position and executed the play. It was good to score into halftime. It gave us a good vibe going into the locker room.”

The Bruins kept the momentum rolling, stretching the lead to as much as 20 midway through the second half against the smaller Sun Devils (10-17, 2-13).

The biggest culprits? Sound passing and even better defense.

UCLA (20-8, 11-4) clamped down on Arizona State, forcing the Sun Devils to the perimeter and outside of the paint, making just nine-of-22 shots in the second half. The Bruins benefitted from Arizona State’s stagnant offense, forcing 16 turnovers and racking up 11 fast-break points and a season-high 22 assists, including 10 by junior point guard Lazeric Jones, with zero turnovers, to go along with 10 points.

Jones was one of five Bruins in double-figures, as junior guard Malcolm Lee led the Bruins with 16 while Honeycutt added 13 points and three 3-pointers, and Smith and Nelson each scored 12. No Sun Devil hit the 10-point mark, with Chanse Creekmur leading the team with nine

“We did a good job to start the first five minutes of the second half,” Howland said. “They cut it to nine, but we fought back and took a nice lead. We were up 20 and had a couple turnovers that led to some baskets. I called a timeout up 15, my fourth of the game. That was a tough game. Tough for me, anyway.”

It doesn’t get any easier on Saturday.

In fact, it might just be the biggest game of the season for the Bruins.

Big, bad Arizona comes into Pauley Pavilion – the last game at the venerated arena for a year, as it will be renovated next season – on Saturday morning, and UCLA expects the Wildcats to be fuming after they lost to USC on Thursday night.

With a UCLA win, the Bruins and Wildcats will be tied for first in the Pac-10 at 12-4.

“Coach always says that the next game is the most important, and this is definitely the case,” Nelson said. “Arizona is a great team and we have a chance to be tied for first, last game in the old Pauley, so I think everyone knows how important it is.”

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  • Larry

    Hmmmm… next game is gonna be tough. AZ lost and had an off night. Doubt this will happen two in a row. They will be ticked and not want to lose 1st place in the conf. UCLA had a nice game and might be a little overconfident, however last game in the “original” Pauly might be extra motivation. Tough to call this one. A win and UCLA is in the Big Dance for sure. A loss… on the bubble still.

  • MichaelRyerson

    “Only the guitar was missing two strings, the strings that were left were made out of glass, and the whole thing was painfully out of tune.” Yikes.

  • Anonymous

    Only nine turnovers will usually do the job.

  • Lifelong Bruin Fan

    UCLA came out listless yesterday and I cringed as ASU sprinted out to a 21-9 lead that included a few virtually uncontested layups. (Part of this was due to a very odd starting lineup that did not include Smith or Stover.) But then for the next 30+ minutes UCLA played perhaps its finest stretch of basketball this season (albeit against an overmatched opponent). The defense was superb as UCLA had numerous tipped balls on the defensive end, many of them leading to fastbreaks. There is no question this team has the athletes to run and they should when they can. At home it certainly picks up the crowd and I think it also energizes the team.

    On offense UCLA methodically picked apart ASU’s zone. Some good outside shooting early for the Bruins but then as the game wore on they made brilliant interior passes to guys rolling off screens or cutting across the lane. Smith and Nelson were a presence down low so UCLA was able to go inside-out regularly, with guys knocking down their outside shots. Much better job of taking care of the ball (and no charging fouls on Nelson!).

    Side note: I’m really glad CBH started Smith in the second half. I think this experiment of keeping Smith on the bench to start halves has been fine while he got adjusted to playing at this level, but his absence to start the game was really apparent as we had no inside game to start and ASU took the ball to the basket to open an early lead (and in fact Smith did not enter the game until the 15-minute mark, which is way too long to keep him on the bench to start the game). I’m sure CBH realized we needed to start the second half strong by having Smith in the lineup to put the ASU team away mentally, otherwise we could have been in another dog fight til the end.

    I’m very curious why Stover did not play at all yesterday–is he hurt or did he get do something (like be late for practice, etc.) that kept him on the bench? Any info on this Jon?