A 10 AM PST start for this nonconference test seemed like the perfect setup for former UCLA sockpuppet Steve Lavin, henceforth known as the Lizard of Westwood, or the Lizard, to exact revenge on his former employer. Utilizing a full court zone press on defense, the Bruins were flustered and ineffective to start. Four points in eight minutes to go with a handful of turnovers and another handful of terrible offensive rebounds given up helped spot the Red Storm an early 9 point lead.
Then Joshua Smith took over in the middle with an array of dunks, Reeves Nelson put on his hard hat and went to work on the glass, Tyler Lamb nailed a couple of 3s, and the youth movement kick started the Bruin offense taking a 3 point lead into the break.
In the second half, steady play from Malcolm Lee helped offset reduced minutes for Smith and Tyler Honeycutt who had been quiet all game long finally made his mark at the free throw line. St. John's guard Dwight Hardy did all he could to keep the Lizard's ship from sinking on offense with an individually brilliant 32 points (against our best defender no less), but in a sight all too familiar to Bruin fans, the Lizard's jungle ball frequently stalled out throughout the game, and only managed points in fits and spurts off of broken plays (like recovering from an almost turnover) or lapses in rebounding. The Bruins' inability to hit clutch free throws made things more interesting than they should have been. Then Nelson, who had tabbed 17 rebounds, took a well deserved shot at putting the Johnnies away and nailed a "magical" dagger 3 with 3 seconds on the shot clock to put a cap on ruining the Lizard Lovefest going on with the announcers for a 66-59 decision for the Bruins (box score).
Once again, the Bruins faced their old nemesis: turnovers. Between 18 and 20 of them depending on who's keeping track, but the bottom line is that it's simply far too many. Although the full court press did play a role in our sloppy ballhandling, we've approached this number against other teams as well. Lazeric Jones had a particularly miserable game overall with no points and six turnovers. Zeek looked like he desperately wanted to help with the scoring load near the end of the game, but ended up forcing a bit too much. Jerime Anderson was generally more effective, but still not at the level needed to consistently break a press and punish a team for using it.
Overall, the Bruins were effective on the defensive end with two major exceptions: defensive rebounding, and Dwight Hardy. While it's disturbing that Hardy "should have" been shut down by Malcolm Lee and wasn't, I can accept that a combination of an off game for Lee and a ridiculously good game for Hardy accounts for this breakdown. The 13 offensive rebounds given up remain a glaring weakness for a team that should on paper be a fantastic rebounding team. Their second chance points, combined with the points off of our turnovers, were the only times the Lizard's jungle ball looked at all effective and shutting down either of those would have ended the game early in the second half. Instead, the Lizard's bunch were allowed to hang around and make things uncomfortable for the Bruins.
It's hard to really say more that needs work in a game that was always going to be more emotional than technical for us as fans. Although we don't expect the slobbering over the Lizard to end considering the grip he has on BSPN, this does take the wind out of his sails, and we can now all enjoy the absence of the Lizard redemption storyline that you know the east coast media had all written up in anticipation for this game.
Besides that, the Bruins continue to roll in the record books, even if the way they've played sometimes left something to be desired. Winners of 7 of their last 8, UCLA moves to 16-7 overall and is starting to make a great case for a tournament berth. Unlike in this particular game, UCLA will need to finish strong, starting with the suddenly dangerous Oregon schools coming to Pauley next week. Eyes on the prize, Bruins.
Eyes on the prize.