ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 17: Joshua Smith #34 of the UCLA Bruins is fouled as he takes a shot by Josh Ritchart #23 of the UC Davis Aggies as John Adenrele #13 looks for a rebound during the first half at Honda Center on December 17, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
"They are who we thought they were"
Davis, that is. UC Davis played true to form and showed us why they are winless against Division 1 competition. That's the context we'll have to use when judging the performances of our team this afternoon.
That said, remember when the questions we used to ask weren't whether we would win or lose but how we would win? I miss those days, but for one afternoon, we got a glimpse of those days again. The catalyst for the Bruins burying the Aggies early came from the unlikeliest of sources.
Joshua Smith has taken a lot of heat from our (and pretty much everyone else's) camp. The disappointment in his conditioning can't be overstated and his lack of aggression and engagement has been the biggest reason this team is underperforming. This was an opponent tailor made for Smith to dominate: undersized and unathletic. We've had other teams that fit that description where Smith renders himself a non-factor. Not today. Josh scored 6 points in the first 3 minutes of the game to help put the Bruins up 10-0 and stamp this game as "ours" from the outset.
By the time walkon Kenny Jones took the floor late in the first half, the game was in hand, and barring a letdown or sloppily played second half that would not be forthcoming, we had seen what we needed to see to conclude that the Bruins are indeed capable of putting together a solid game.
It's always a struggle to not get carried away though, knowing what a terrible team Davis is. What we can try to do is identify which parts of this game translate over regardless of opponent.
The lift Josh Smith gave us early in the game was encouraging not necessarily because of the performance itself, but it was easily the most active and engaged Smith has been all year. He may not be able to improve his conditioning to where we all expected at the start of the year, but staying active, alert, and aggressive is how we need him every single game for the rest of the year. Now that we've seen what he's capable of this year, we expect to see more of it. He may not have the same line (18 pts, 10 rebs, 3 blocks) every game, but most of what I liked about how he played today was mental.
The extended garbage time also meant that there were no excuses for "forgetting" about Norman Powell and leaving him on the bench. Given the rebounding woes of our forward spots, the most impressive stat he had tonight was his 10 rebounds, tied for most on the team with Smith. That goes with 9 rebounds for Tyler Lamb, and those numbers from our guard spots just shows how backwards this team really is. As if we needed more evidence that Powell needs to play more, give me this afternoon's Smith, and I'd even be tempted throw out a Smith + 4 guard lineup against smaller opponents.
I mentioned in the game thread that we were going for .500, but that's not entirely true from my perspective, as I'm not counting Chaminade. After this 82-39 victory, the Bruins move to 3-0 in the Post Reeves Nelson era, and will have a chance to get to .500 for real Tuesday night against UC Irvine. Hopefully we will see another game filled with smiles and camaraderie coming from the bench.