For much of UCLA’s Thursday night matchup at Arizona State, the Bruins simply could not stick a fork in the Sun Devils.
UCLA pushed and prodded and Arizona State scratched and clawed.
Ultimately, Lazeric Jones and Joshua Smith finally put the Sun Devils away and the Bruins sauntered to a 66-57 win in front of 5,477 at Wells Fargo Arena.
Jones led all scorers with 20 points in 8-of-15 shooting, taking the game over as the Briuns found Arizona State a tough out. Jones had 13 points in the second half, including 2-of-3 3-pointers, as he finally listed to Ben Howland’s prodding.
Howland said he spoke with Jones about shooting more often, especially after an eight-attempt performance in the Bruins’ three-point loss at St. John’s last Saturday.
“We can’t win without him taking more shot attempts,” Howland said. “Being more aggressive to look to score, especially from three. He was passing up threes to drive to guarded shots. You’re open, you’re a good shooter, you worked your tail off to become a good shooter in the offseason, don’t pass up the threes.”
Jones took over in the second half because, for a while, it did not look like anyone else wanted to.
UCLA went into halftime up just 25-24 on the lowly Sun Devils, done in by Arizona State’s methodical pace. The Sun Devils appeared willing to keep it a low-scoring game for as long as possible, particularly with Smith out of the game with two early first-half fouls.
Smith had eight of his 10 points in 11 second-half minutes, deftly weaving around an Arizona State zone defense that could not find an answer for his size.
“I’ve been working on not letting that affect me, still being supportive, but it’s hard – I went out there, scored, tried to take a charge and got a block and that’s on me, come back down and got another,” Smith said. “That’s no way anybody wants to go out.”
Without Smith, the Bruins were unable to gain traction in the first half against a plucky Sun Devil squad that bested them on the offensive glass, where they picked up 11 rebounds.
UCLA wasn’t able to gain any true momentum until midway through the second half, when the Bruins stretched their lead from seven to 17 during a five-minute stretch.
“The first half was kind of back and forth and we never really put them away and that was our main focus at halftime,” said sophomore forward David Wear, who added 13 points. “We really wanted to come out and get off to a good start, to execute and be patient on offense because they were being patient on offense and winding down the shot clock. We wanted to do that too. I think we shot 50 percent from the field which was huge for us and we all got really good shots.”
None more so than Jones, who responded to Howland’s call to arms.
Jones had 11 points on just 12 attempts in 69 combined minutes in the team’s previous two games, drawing Howland’s ire for not being aggressive enough with the ball. Jones’ six-point performance against USC and five-point game at St. John’s were his two lowest scoring outputs since being moved to shooting guard, and Howland made sure Jones was ready to fire on Thursday.
“We moved him to the two after the first two road games of the conference because we wanted to make him more of a primary focus to be a scorer, to be a shooter,” Howland said. “He’s still been great at getting assists – top three or four in the league – but I thought he did a great job tonight being aggressive.”