Before the stretch run can begin in earnest, the Bruins had one remaining "warm up" at home against the Oregon State Beavers. UCLA predictably had a turnover plagued game yet again, and although the scouting report indicated that we should have seen a higher turnover game coming, it doesn't make it any less frustrating. Fortunately, the offensively inept Beavers started both halves in severe field goal droughts which was enough for the relatively consistent Bruins to twice expand their lead into the double digits and finish off Oregon State, 69-61, to improve to 18-7 and close to within a half game of idle Arizona in the Pac 10 race.
From the start it was feast or famine against the Beavers' zone. Either good player movement and crisp passing would lead to easy shots for the Bruins, or they'd make a bad unforced turnover. Dominant performances offensively by Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith helped pace the Bruins when they weren't throwing the ball away to OSU. Jerime Anderson displayed control over the offense that should help people forget all about last year, which was especially important with an injured Lazeric Jones. Tyler Honeycutt continues to be our most confusing and frustrating player, as he filled up the stat sheet in virtually every way. He had 7 turnovers but also 8 blocks, and made a couple of great touch passes to Smith inside for easy baskets.
There's really not a whole lot to say about this game because both teams pretty much played exactly to their scouting report. UCLA dominated on the glass and turned the ball over a lot (26). OSU stole the ball, pressed, trapped, and shot very poorly. Maybe the only real surprises here were the ridiculous amount of blocks (16) the Bruins tallied, and Ben Howland showing his feisty side, reinserting his starters late in the already decided game due to his annoyance with OSU extending garbage time.
It's difficult to really draw any conclusions from a game like this against a bad team like OSU. What we do know is that we've now cleared our schedule of most of the "easy" games, and the final six conference games will go a long way in showing us what this team really is capable of. On one hand, we have achieved a measure of offensive balance that would be the envy of most teams. The defense, while still rather poor as a team, has been better on an individual basis than it was earlier in the year. The Bruins are also usually good on the glass and have learned how to attack zones inside three games in a row now. On the other hand, the turnovers put a cap on how great this team can be, and lapses in rebounding occasionally allow other teams to hurt us with second chance opportunities.
With the stretch run upon us, the Bruins will take their show on the road against Stanford on Thursday. The goal for this week, IMO, is to achieve at least a split. This has always been a difficult road trip, but coming out of it with 19 wins with four games left to play would keep the Bruins in good position on the bubble.