With all the dramatics from Klay Thompson's suspension and Reggie Moore's injury, there was the chance that the Bruins would take Washington State, a team they own a 17 game away winning streak against, lightly. And boy did they ever. From the outset, UCLA showed no effort or ability to do anything but pass around the perimeter and allow WSU's aggressive zone trap to be even more effective. On defense, Washington State was able to use a variety of slips and backdoor cuts to continuously burn the Bruin D for easy opportunities at the rim. The Bruins were fortunate to avoid their season low for a half by a single point and go into the break down a baker's dozen.
It was pretty clear what halftime message Howland sent to his team: Get the ball inside. The first four or five possessions were all marked by early entries into the middle to exploit advantages by either Joshua Smith or Reeves Nelson. The Bruin scoring run put the Cougars back on their heels, and UCLA quickly tied the game back up and even took a four point lead. Those of us who have followed this team this year knew what to expect next: Sloppy play, turnovers, and bad defense. The game remained a one possession affair down to the end, when Malcolm Lee was fouled on a drive to the rim with UCLA down a pair. The captain, who had been shooting poorly, was still clutch enough to sink both free throws, and a WSU deep heave went wide to send the game to overtime.
The last time the Bruins faced this situation, they reverted back to their bad habits and bad defense, and Cal came away a winner on their home floor. Maybe they learned something from that game, because this time, down the stretch, UCLA came up with two consecutive defensive stops by Tyler Honeycutt and Jerime Anderson, and two more Malcolm Lee free throws later, and the Bruins came out on top this time by being the less terrible team.
The individual performances this afternoon were generally nothing to speak of. 112 points between these teams in an overtime game shows what a deep freeze both teams were in offensively. For Washington State, it is somewhat understandable. Klay Thompson is their offense, and without him, they were likely going to struggle from the field regardless of who they played today. The Bruin malaise is harder to explain, but is certainly more frustrating. Reeves Nelson came to play, going 10-13 from the field for 23 points, but he and Anthony Stover were largely responsible for letting another opposing teams' Scrub Superstar to emerge, this time in the form of Cougar forward Brock Motum, who led his team with 15 points. Meanwhile, the three guard lineup of Jones/Lee/Anderson went a putrid 3-21 from the field. Lee and Zeek have had a couple of off games in a row, but at least Lee was able to make Faisal Aden's life miserable, helping hold WSU's "other" go-to guy to 4-17 shooting.
There's not a lot of good to take from this though. The fact remains that this was an undermanned team that the Bruins should have been able to jump on early. Maybe it doesn't take even 20 good minutes of ball from this team to beat WSU in their depleted state, but that we had to test the limits of that theory today was very disappointing. Even in the second half, when the Bruins were making their surge, they inexplicably went away from what got them there, and started hoisting the same awful shots they were shooting in the first half, helping to go 6 1/2 minutes without a score and let Washington State retake the lead. For all the talk of improvement this season, the lack of focus and engagement from this team has been a sad constant from Day One, and it looks like we're stuck with it till the end, whenever that may be.
Big picture is that UCLA has likely punched its dance card, and Howland has probably fulfilled the bare minimum expectations for the season in getting this team to the dance. I always felt that I'd be more pleased knowing that we're a "lock" and that we wouldn't have to sweat out Selection Sunday. Games like this, however, take a lot of air out of that balloon. I hope that starting with whoever our opponent is in the Pac 10 Tournament, we can start going out and winning games, and not simply try to be the less awful team like today.