Early on at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Wednesday night, the UCLA basketball team watched as the Eastern Washington Eagles looked more like the Fort Wayne Zollner-Pistons, holding the ball at the top of the key as if there were no shot clock.
The strategy backfired as UCLA steadily built a lead.
But the Eagles soared back twice in the second quarter, actually attempting to move the ball toward the basket with some regularity, before the Bruins shut the door with two big runs to maintain their buffer and win their second straight, 60-47.
“They haven’t shown it the whole year,” Howland said of the stall tactics. “Actually the stall helped us. I wasn’t disappointed in it. It gave us a rest, being a man down in our rotation.”
With second-leading scorer Travis Wear laid up in the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center with a skin infection on his left foot, the Bruins played an eight-man rotation, with all eight playing more than 14 minutes, and seven playing 18-plus. UCLA’s lack of depth showed, as the Bruins shot 50 percent but just 33 percent in the second half.
Already down a man with Reeves Nelson’s expulsion from the team and De’End Parker’s persistent knee injury – and now food poison – Howland had to improvise with his rotation, with players checking in at almost every stoppage, and no two players benefitted from the lack of depth than sophomore center Anthony Stover and junior forward Brendan Lane, who totaled 36 minutes.
“It was very important for me and Brendan Lane to get in there and so some things that Travis does for us on a daily basis,” Stover said. “Brendan did a really good job tonight, I played hard tonight, and I think we got the job done.”
With the defense given a reprieve because of the Eagles’ unorthodox offense, the Bruins were fresher on offense then they’ve been for much of the season.
Senior point guard Lazeric Jones kept up his hot shooting against the Eagles, leading UCLA with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while sophomore guard Tyler Lamb added 14. Sophomore center Joshua Smith had seven points and two rebounds, but added three blocks.
Jones’ shooting continued his recent streak, as after starting the season 3-for-20, he’s made 35 of his last 70 shots.
“Zeek really was off-keel to start the season and he’s really got it back now,” Howland said. “He’s very much under control and really playing well and steady for us. He’s done a nice job for us in these last few games in a row.”
Jones had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half while adding four rebounds as the Eagles seemed to eager to slow things up.
For much of the first 10 minutes, Eastern Washington stalled the ball behind the perimeter, more than willing to let the seconds drip off. Problem is, the Eagles were willing to let the Bruins off the hook, too. UCLA was able to remain in man-to-man defense for the entirety of the game after having only practiced the zone sparsely in practice during the last week, and Eastern Washington shot just 5-of-22 from 3-point range.
They got hot early in the second half after UCLA went into halftime up 28-18, as the Eagles went on a 12-4 run before the Bruins regained control with a 6-0 spurt, spurred by Norman Powell’s four straight points.
“We kind of huddled up and we looked at each other and said, ‘Look they’re not going to go away,'” Lamb said.