Maybe it was just the shoes, but UCLA head coach Ben Howland sure did seem to have some extra pep in his step on Saturday afternoon.
Sporting sneakers to support the fight against cancer to go along with his fine suit, Howland was springier than a well-coiled slinky; still wound just as tight, but ready to let loose.
His players had a little extra bounce, too.
Playing against one of the hottest teams in the conference, it was UCLA that heated up, shooting 59.6 percent in a 77-60 win over Colorado in front of 9,253 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
“(Former UCLA head coach and current St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin) went to the sneakers and stayed in them the rest of the way last year,” Howland said with a smile. “I like it, too. Feels better on my feet.”
The Bruins were better off of them.
Their feet, that is, as UCLA converted alley-oop after alley-oop, putting on a show for what was certainly the best home crowd of the year at the Sports Arena. Already up seven but coming off a 3-pointer by Colorado’s Nate Tomlinson with just less than 14 minutes remaining, the Bruins went on an 13-3 run, capped off by a Jerime Anderson-to-Travis Wear alley-oop dunk, stretching the lead to 17 with 8 minutes, 44 seconds to play.
“Defensive stops – whenever we’re getting stops it definitely is a momentum booster,” sophomore guard Tyler Lamb said. “It gets everybody up more and then you come down and score, it all starts snowballing. We were in the huddle and we were communicating in timeouts, coach Howland was asking us what we thought would work and our senior guards stepped up a lot.”
Senior guard Lazeric Jones had a team-high 17 points and nine assists, Anderson added eight points and eight assists and Lamb added 12 points and six assists as UCLA finished with 26 on the afternoon. The sharp passing helped the Bruins erase an early deficit that was plagued by sloppiness.
The Buffaloes (14-7, 6-3) got off to a nice start in their first matchup with UCLA (12-9, 5-4) as a conference opponent, jumping ahead 12-4 as the Bruins committed four quick turnovers. UCLA climbed back, took the lead with 12:27 left and eventually went into halftime up by four, courtesy of a Norman Powell 3-pointer as the first half expired.
What changed so drastically for the Bruins in the second half?
They picked up their defensive intensity.
After letting Colorado shoot 56 percent in the first half on 15-of-27 shooting, UCLA held the Buffaloes – who came into the game winners of 9-of-11 – to 34.8-percent shooting in the second half and ran away with it.
“Our intensity picked up a little in the second half,” said David Wear, who finished with 13 points. “There’ve been a couple times where our intensity dipped off in the second half. It was good to come up with that much intensity, really talking about our defense, not allowing any second shots.”
Howland credited Lamb with a standout effort as UCLA held Colorado’s leading scorer Carlon Brown – who had been averaging 13.6 points per game – to just six points in 31 minutes, with two assists and three of the team’s 14 turnovers.
“I really thought Tyler Lamb played great defense on Brown,” Howland said. “He’s a great player, and Tyler Lamb deserves a lot of credit for how he played. Thirteen points, six assists – I thought this was one of his best games as a Bruin.”
Added Lamb: “Carlon Brown, I’ve known him since I was in middle school – I played on his AAU team a couple times. I’ve known what he was capable of. He’s a very good player. Coach stressed that I would have to stop him and I tried my best.”
What had Howland really geeked as his Bruins now prepare for a tough two-game road set in Washington against the Huskies and Washington State Cougars was the team’s passing, though.
“We were really, really making the extra pass,” Howland said. “It’s fun to watch. That’s how basketball is supposed to be played. I love that our players get joy out of making that play. The funnest thing on offense is to watch a pass that leads to a wide open shot. I love that as much as anything.”
Maybe even as much as his new shoes.