After coming out asleep in the first half of its four-point overtime loss to Cal last Sunday, the UCLA mens 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 to take a 39-29 halftime lead.
Before the game, head coach Ben Howland stressed the importance of the game after the dreadful performance at Cal.
“To me it’s not because it’s so important,” Howland said, when asked if he considered the matchup with the Sun Devils a ‘trap game.’ “We have to win this game. That’s the mentality we have to have. Every game in my heart is a must-win. It’s already as high as it should be as far as im concerned. Sense of urgency is always high. That’s what you have to be.”
It took some time, but the Bruins finally heard the message.
Early on, it certainly fell on deaf ears.
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 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.
Just as turnovers have been a drastic problem for the Bruins, so too has been a lack of takeaways. UCLA ranks last in the conference in forced turnovers, but forced seven Arizona State gaffes in first half, with a season-low two for the half.
“We’re playing more position and less pressure,” Howland said. “We’ve forced more turnovers on the pass. This is not a team that forces a lot of turnovers. My thing is our field goal percentage defense is better.”
The increased turnovers sent the Bruins into transition, and they thrived, scoring 10 points off turnovers as junior guard Malcolm Lee and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt heated up. Lee had 12 first half points with three 3-pointers, while Honeycutt added nine points and three 3-pointers. Smith added seven points and two blocks.