I don't care whether Tyler Honeycutt is injured, on the court, or stranded at Heathrow Airport. There is no excuse for a UCLA team to be outplayed on Wooden Court by a physically inferior (in terms of the measurables) and - until tonight - offensively weak Irvine team. After a complete victory over BYU on Saturday, the Bruins struggled to keep a lead this evening, preserving a 74-73 win when UCI could not get off a clean final shot before the buzzer. As had been all too typical in the early part of the season, the barncats have not roamed down to Pauley, instead lounging in the warmth of the dorms. While the Bruins had a couple of runs during the course of the game that - with a bit of persistence and aggression - could have led to a comfortable win. Instead, they simply refused to lock down, letting the visiting Anteaters take the initiative, and take the game to the final buzzer with the opportunity to pull off the upset.
There is little good to take out of this performance. On the occasions that Joshua Smith got the ball, he was productive (And stayed our of foul trouble), finishing with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Malcolm Lee shared the scoring lead with 20 points, along with 5 rebounds. Zeke Jones also scored 20, and led the team with 6 assists, though Tyler Lamb - in his first start - looked like the best distributor tonight, particularly in getting the ball inside to Smith, finishing with 5 assists along with 6 points and 4 rebounds.
After successfully getting the ball to Smith early, the Bruins became unable to feed the big man inside as the game progressed. Smith/Nelson/Lane/Stover combined for only 17 of UCLA's 54 shots from the field, though to be fair with the way that the team shot from the line (12-23), getting inside and drawing contact was not looking to be a great strategy tonight. Talking about Jerime gets a little old, but tonight just seemed to confirm his inability to lead a team, either at the point, or as an upperclass leader by example on a squad desperately short on battle-tested veterans. A pair of critical FT's missed late in the game, along with a lane violation negating a Josh Smith FT attempt is sadly little surprising now. After a couple of promising games, Brendan Lane took a step back tonight. Unable to assert himself against smaller, less skilled opposition, Lane attempted only 2 shots and scored 3 points in 20 minutes (though he did accrue 4 fouls). Despite his struggles, Howland still felt that he was the better bet as primary backup post over Anthony Stover, who saw 6 minutes of action. Reeves Nelson started the game with energy - even on D - but flagged along with the rest of the team as the game progressed and the Anteaters held strong, finishing with 8 points and 7 rebounds while turning the ball over 4 times.
The Bruins had 6 days to prepare before their strongest performances to date (Kansas, BYU). The Bruins now have 6 days before opening Pac-10 play against a surprisingly strong Washington State squad @ Pauley. While I hope for a performance like those two against the Cougars next week, let's hope that tonight is not a(nother) sign that this team is taking after its coach in struggling to perform on short rest. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Bruins Nation, and see you on the other side. This is your postgame thread.