UCLA rolls ASU 75-58 to improve to 2-2 in Pac-12 play

ANAHEIM — Just filed my game story on UCLA’s 75-58 win over Arizona State on Saturday so look for that in Sunday’s LA Newsgroup papers or at dailynews.com

A few optimistic observations from Saturday’s game:

–Josh Smith showed yet another flash of what kind of help he can be to this team when he wants to be, scoring 18 points in 21 minutes and avoiding a foul-out after picking up two quick ones. It may have seemed easy to say the Bruins looked better without him in their win over Arizona on Thursday but open layups were abounding when he was working within the offense in the second half. Everyone, including Smith, spoke at length after the game about how his aggression opened lots of looks up.

“His energy level was up,” Howland said. “I’m pleased for him because he played aggressive and he looked to score. That’s what we’re going to continue to expect out of Josh.”

–Believe it or not, Smith’s conditioning is improving. He went up strong and with purpose more times on Saturday than he probably has all year and Howland said his weight is down to the “best it’s been in a year.” Part of that could be because he didn’t play Thursday. He had to return to Westwood this morning to pass concussion protocol and didn’t start Saturday but played well in the second half.

“I feel a lot better,” Smith said. “That’s probably why I’ve been playing a little better, playing more minutes. I’ve been in better shape this season than I was last year. As long as I stay out of foul trouble, I feel I can play more than 20 minutes.”

–Arizona State is not as good as UCLA made them look early on. The Bruins had no business letting the Sun Devils hang around but they were making some tough shots. Credit senior guard Jerime Anderson who alerted Howland that UCLA should press ASU as their two point guards were left home because of suspensions.

–Sophomore forwards David and Travis Wear finally seem to be turning into the players that UCLA fans hoped they would be. The twins combined for 58 points and 26 rebounds against the Arizona schools. Howland, as he’s wont to do, reminded naysayers that the Wears and Smith are still young.

“We’re talking about three sophomores, he said. “I thought they had a great weekend. They’re playing with a lot of physicality and it’s helping us. This was a good step. 42 points out of that front line was nice.”