UCLA put together 40 minutes of great defense, CBH had a great game plan, and, of course the perfect ending. Let's start with the ending:
With 47 seconds left to play and the Bruins leading 69-48, Howland called a timeout in order to substitute Trapani, along with four other Bruins who rarely see playing time, into the game.
On the next play after the timeout, UCLA freshman guard Jack Haley popped out to the wing for a wide-open 3-pointer that came up short but landed square in the hands of Trapani under the basket. The junior guard calmly put the rebound up and in and sent the UCLA crowd and bench into hysteria.
And after the game, Trapani’s shot effectively sent his coach to tears.
"I pray a lot, and to have Trapani make that last shot means so much to me, you have no idea," said an emotional Howland. "And I know it does to his family and all those former players. What a cool way to have the last basket ever. This was just a great day for us, and to finish like that really is special."
While that was definitely the moment of the game that literally brought Coach Ben Howland to tears in the locker room, long term this may be the most important comment on the game, by Arizona's coach Sean Miller:
"They've become the best defensive team in our conference," Arizona coach Sean Miler said.
Wow, who would have thought someone would say that by the end of the season? Early this season that thought would have been laughable. But putting aside the one road game at Cal, recently the Bruins defense as a whole has been pretty awesome.
Of course, defense was not the only part of UCLA's game that was playing near perfection.
More break-down after the jump.
As the Mildcats' hometown paper broke down, Arizona's Sean Miller gave the Bruins praise:
"We played a team (UCLA) that is playing at a high level. We need to play at a high level."
. . .
The Wildcats (23-6 overall, 12-4 in the Pac-10) had no answers for UCLA’s frontcourt players Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt and Joshua Smith. The trio combined for 59 of UCLA’s points on 23-of-36 shooting from the field.
Smith, a freshman center, had 17 points, four rebounds, a career-high three assists, and one blocked shot. He shot 7-for-11 from the field.
CBH went a step further (emphasis mine) with an arguable point but a conclusion that can't be argued:
UCLA torched Arizona inside, scoring 50 points in the paint and outrebounding the Wildcats, 40-26. Forward Reeves Nelson had a career-high 27 points and 16 rebounds, Smith had 17 points and Honeycutt had 15.
"This is the best low-post scoring team we've had since I've been here," Howland said.
The Bruins began to pull away late in the first half once they began to exploit their advantage inside. They led, 40-30, at halftime and then scored the first 13 points in the second half, capping off a 24-2 run that spanned 14 minutes.
"We've had trouble all year putting two halves together," Honeycutt said. "I think we made a statement."
Great team interior offense, great team defense (Arizona shot 31.5% for the game), everyone playing well, yeah that is a strong statement. But there was one player who stuck out.
Nelson certainly played as if motivated by something divine, his career-high 27 points and 16 rebounds overshadowed by his defense. Nelson held Arizona's Derrick Williams, who had scored 13 points in the first half while being defended by a variety of Bruins big men, to two points after halftime while guarding the star forward exclusively.
"I just took it as a challenge," Nelson said. "I have a tattoo on me that says, 'Tell me I can't. I don't hear you.' "
The Bruins had a sellout crowd of 11,986 rocking when they closed the first half and opened the second on a 22-2 run that transformed a one-point lead into a 51-30 advantage. The Wildcats had one final surge in them, pulling to within 57-48 on Williams' only basket of the second half with 4:36 remaining.
It wasn't nearly enough. A tip-in by freshman center Joshua Smith (17 points) sparked a 14-0 run for UCLA, which held Arizona to 25% shooting in the second half and held a 40-26 rebounding edge overall in its best start-to-finish effort of the season.
Reeves is one of the most unique players in the recent era. He gets in everyone's face, including CBH's:
"I went right to coach and told him I'm going to guard him the rest of the game, no matter what," Nelson said.
Did Nelson really force Howland's hand?
"It was a strong request," Nelson laughed.
Howland obliged. Nelson defended Williams exclusively in the second half and held him to two points.
ESPN's Peter Yoon has been channeling BN in his article "Good Reeves Nelson great for UCLA" and our discussions of good and bad Reeves. Yoon gives Nelson too much credit (and too much blame) but the article is a good read. I will take a few snippets of what the other Bruins are saying about Reeves:
"Reeves Nelson had the game of his career to this point," Howland said. "This is by far our best game of the year. This was the best 40 minutes." . . .
"I remember Reeves saying, 'I want him [Derick Williams], coach. Don't take me out when he's in the game," Smith said. "When he's out of the game, you can take me out.' " . . .
"He's a really emotional person and it comes out the wrong way sometimes, but he always means the best," Stover said "He breathes on everyone the hardest because he's driven to win and he pushes us to do that." . . .
"He's stronger mentally," Honeycutt said. "He's not letting little stuff get to him. He's improved as a player as well as person -- being patient, being able to listen and being coachable."
Personally, I love his man-to-man defense and his recent commitment there. Bruin Report Online has some video with more quotes from Reeves, Smith, and Nelson (Nelson shows some humility, he does admit to needing to work on his help defense). But at the end of the day the press conference was all about Tyler Trapani, and his legendary great-grandfather:
"I'm still just baffled at what happened," Trapani said. "I really don't get to get in [the games] very often.
"So right now I really just feel like my great-grandpa put me in that position to just catch the ball and put it back up and in." . . .
While everyone else was saying another goodbye, Wooden said hello.
"Something's going on there," an emotional Howland said after the game. "I really believe that."
Thanks Coach. Go Bruins.