The Next Step?

The Bruins are anxiously awaiting the offseason decisions of several players who have been rumored to be toying with the idea of entering the NBA Draft.

Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt is rumored to be the most likely to leap to the league, though he said after the game that he has not made a decision and would consult his family and coaches first. Honeycutt is rated anywhere from a mid-first-round pick to a late-second-round pick in most mock drafts.

UCLA head coach Ben Howland said that he would meet with Honeycutt shortly to discuss his future.

“That’s really early,” Howland said. “I haven’t even discussed it with him. That’s something we’ll do here over the course of the next few weeks.”

The Bruins are also wondering about the fate of junior guard Malcolm Lee and sophomore Reeves Nelson, who also said he had not made any decisions.

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Nelson said. “I was going to try to take this as far as we could go. Now I’m going to just sit down with coach and my parents and then see what happens.”

Smith, meanwhile, emphatically said he was returning for his sophomore year in the team’s locker room.

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A Post post

TAMPA – March Madness is a time for heroes and a time for goats, a time of luck and of skill, a time of joy and of sorrow.

But mostly, it’s a time for mish-mashed styles, for coaching preferences, for big versus little, both in conference size and literal size.

Nowhere was that more evident than Tampa’s St. Pete Times Forum in UCLA’s 73-65 loss to Florida.

The Bruins entered the game knowing they’d win it by going inside. The Gators knew they’d win it by staying outside.

Ultimately, it was the Florida backcourt that snatched victory from the Bruins – guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton combining for 33 points – but UCLA can rest assured that it played its game against Florida.

The Bruins went to the post early and often, utilizing freshman center Joshua Smith and sophomore forward Reeves Nelson with max efficiency. The two combined for 14 points and 10 points in the first half as UCLA trailed 35-33, despite owning a 20-10 rebounding advantage, and a 9-0 edge on offensive rebounding.

“It’s our same game plan every game; just control tempo and play inside-out,” Smith said. “For the most part we kinda controlled the inside game, but they were getting putbacks, getting wide-open shots, and they made more plays than we did.”

In the second half, though, despite foul trouble for three post players -Vernon Macklin, Patric Young and Erik Murphy each finished with four fouls – Florida flipped the script.

The Gators grabbed 22 rebounds – including eight offensive – to the Bruins’ 15, and with Smith facing foul trouble of his own, UCLA lost some of its decided post advantage.

“You have to try to impose your will on the game,” Nelson said. “But good teams make adjustments, and that’s what they did. At the same time, I thought Josh and I did a good job inside today.”

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Tyler Honeycutt on UCLA’s effort

Tyler Honeycutt:

“I dont think we played 40 minutes of our greatest, but I do think we played 40 minutes of our hardest. We were missing too many easy layups, too many free throws. We could’ve played a lot better. This wasn’t a great game – but in terms of effort, I think we played 40 minutes.”

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Gators Get’em Again

TAMPA – Malcolm Lee jumped, his left knee ailing, his chest pounding, the sweat dripping, and he thought he had the ball.

It was there, maybe an inch away, maybe a mile, but it was there.

And then it wasn’t.

And neither was Erving Walker, as Lee slipped to the ground, and Walker scurried past.

The 5-foot-8 Florida point guard caught a desperation in-bound pass over a leaping Lee, dribbled to the 3-point line and delivered the latest Gator dagger into the hearts of Bruin fans.

Walker’s 3-pointer with 1 minute, 14 seconds left dropped into the basket, giving Florida an insurmountable four-point lead, and the Gators advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 73-65 win over UCLA on Saturday afternoon at Tampa’s St. Pete Times Forum.

It was Florida’s third tournament win over the Bruins in six years, and though it did not come in the championship game like in 2006 or the Final Four like in 2007, it was just as painful.
Lee sat at his locker after the game quietly dejected, not outwardly emotional – freshman teammate Joshua Smith sat close by, head buried in hands, eyes bloodshot – and replayed the moment over and over in his head.

“I kind of played it soft, which ended up biting me in the butt,” Lee said. “I hesitated a little bit. It was a bad decision.
“But I would go for it (again), go for my initial instinct instead of hesitating.”

For 38 minutes, there was no hesitation for UCLA.

Two days after nearly coughing up a 23-point lead in a 78-76 win over Michigan State in the second round, there was no up-and-down like the Bruins have shown all season, no rollercoaster, no big lead and subsequent melt down.

They were gritty and tough, seasoned and mentally strong against a fiercely pro-Florida crowd, Gainesville just a two-hour drive away. In a game, it looked like they had become men.

For 38 minutes.

Then Walker cut directly into their souls, hitting the decisive 3-pointer and four more free throws as UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson both missed 3-pointers and Lee missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Thirty-eight minutes of grit and hustle and determination.

Two minutes of misery.

Months of bad memories.

“I felt this was a game we should’ve won,” Lee said. “It’s just really hard when the whole team goes out there and gives it our all. We could’ve played a lot better, but there was no question our intensity was there. It just hurts when you go 150 percent and still come up short…”

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Florida leads 35-33 at the half

With Joshua Smith on the court, UCLA looked simply dominant at times in the first half of its NCAA Tournament third-round matchup against Florida.

Then Smith picked up his second foul, on the offensive end going for a loose ball, and the Bruins game-plan changed.

Yet they stayed in the game.

UCLA trails the Florida 35-33 at the half, despite the Gators’ sensational shooting, and the Bruins have the ball to start the second half.

Despite very good on-ball defense, Florida shot 56 percent in the first half, making 14-of-25 shots, while UCLA shot 40.7 percent, hitting 11-of-27 shots. The Bruins also struggled from the free-throw line, making 10-of-15, while Florida hit 4-of-5.

If not for a remarkable 20-10 rebounding advantage, including a 9-0 offensive rebounding edge, the Bruins would be trailing by more than two. But Smith has four offensive boards and six points, Reeves Nelson has eight points and six boards and Tyler Honeycutt seven points and three rebounds, and UCLA is keeping it a game.

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Edney remembers…

I briefly chatted with UCLA Director of Ops Tyus Edney on the court before today’s game against Florida, saying, “This has to bring up a lot of memories.”

Edney’s response?

“Man…I miss the boos.”

Well, he should hear a lot today in this incredibly orange-and-blue crowd. And to think, Florida players said this wasn’t a home game.

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Florida prepares for big challenge…VERY big challenge

Caught in a swarm of reporters, most of whom stood a full foot shorter, Joshua Smith basked in the attention, joking and giggling and eliciting guffaws from the charmed group on Friday afternoon.

Smith will get no less attention from Florida tomorrow.

The way the Gator players and coaches talked about the UCLA freshman center as the two teams met the media in advance of tomorrow’s 11:45 a.m. NCAA Tournament third-round matchup at Tampa’s St. Pete Times Forum, you would have thought they were talking about unicorns.

They haven’t seen a player of Smith’s size and strength, not many have, and they stood in awe.

“He’s a mountain, sure,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of UCLA’s gentle giant. “He’s a freight train. I would say every game that Josh Smith goes into, he has a physical advantage. I don’t think there’s a question about that. He has a physical advantage against everybody he plays against.”

The Gators are expecting a full serving of Smith – that’s seconds or thirds compared to anyone else – and they should be expecting it early.

Smith started in the Bruins’ 78-76 win over Michigan State on Thursday night in the second round, his first start since UCLA’s 63-52 loss at USC on Jan. 9. Smith had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, added three rebounds and two steals and had a monstrous block on Spartan center Adreian Payne that Donovan singled out specifically.

UCLA head coach Ben Howland said he finally realized after the team’s crushing 76-59 loss to Oregon in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament that Smith had seemingly overcome his foul issues and that the Bruins needed to set the tone early.

Talk about a hearty breakfast.

“I just want to get off to a good start,” Howland said of the Bruins, who raced to a 42-24 halftime advantage against Michigan State only to eke out the two-point win. “He is one of our five best players. He should be our starting center. I just thought it was the right thing to do.”

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