UCLA Basketball Roundup: Worthy of a Kiss?

It is said it is better to win ugly then loss pretty.  Yeah, but I felt a lot better after the Kansas loss than the win over Washington State.  As Tydides said before the game:

I’m more nervous if WSU is undermanned. Last game notwithstanding, our more "inconsistent" players seem to play better if they perceive a game to be a big one.

Tydides turned prophet.  How did CBH get these Bruins to wake up after a first half that Jon Gold described as:

Playing with the energy of a water buffalo after a Thanksgiving dinner, the UCLA basketball team did not sleepwalk through the first half. They Bruins were downright in a coma.

UCLA started the half 5-of-16 shooting, finished 7-of-25, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and Washington State hit the backdoor cut like a layup line, taking a 32-19 lead into halftime. The Bruins' 19 points were their second lowest halftime total of the season, better only than the loss at Cal, when they had 18.

CBH didn't dump on the Bruins but did scare them:

Yet UCLA trailed by 15 points in the first half and by 32-19 at halftime.

"I talked about what was at stake, that we have to win this game," Howland said of his halftime talk. "I told them I want you to come out and play with the passion and intensity like this game is either going to get us in or get us out of the NCAA Tournament."

Apparently that worked.  Of course it helps that the Cougars were playing without their starting backcourt and had in the lineup a red shirt graduating junior who rarely played.

More after the jump.

First, give credit to Washington State; in a sense, I think their fans have more to be proud of after the loss:

"Give all the credit in the world to Washington State for the way they came out and completely dominated the first half with all the adversity," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

Bone said fatigue "could have been" a factor in WSU's lackluster finish. The Cougars played only seven players, including walk-ons Ben Loewen and Will DiIorio.  . . 

The Cougars have no seniors, but Loewen started on Senior Day because he is a redshirt junior who does not plan to play next season. The scrappy, rarely used guard from Spokane did not score in a career-high 21 minutes. . . .

DiIorio, a freshman out of Bainbridge High, played a season-high 18 minutes off the bench. DiIorio's one basket accounted for his first two points since Dec. 10.

Of course those two points by Diliro were more than the UCLA bench scored in this game (counting Smith as a starter), with Anderson, Lamb, Lane, and Stover scoring 0 in 49 minutes. 

Part of the reason for the first half domination was the Bruins were unprepared for the new offense that desperate WSU unveiled and almost won with.

The Cougars, unveiling a variation of the Oregon offense and taking the Bruins by surprise with backdoor layup after backdoor layup, sprinted to the 26-13 lead, swallowing UCLA's offense whole. The Bruins started 2 for 12 from the field, finished the half 7 of 25 - including 0 for 8 from 3-point range - and the walk back to the locker room wasn't a jaunt so much as a full-on sprint.

"It was one of those games where we weren't prepared; they had just put in Oregon's offense," UCLA junior forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "Same thing with Cal - we weren't able to adapt. We just wanted to get out of the first half and be able to come into the locker room and talk about it."

Howland's halftime speech must have been a dandy.  Reverting back to the inside-outside game that has served the team well during a 13-3 regular-season finish, UCLA tied the score at 35 on a Honeycutt 3-pointer with just more than 12 minutes left in regulation.

Reeves Nelson's offense was key in leading us to victory but the end it was Malcolm Lee who was the leader.  Lee did his usual great job on defense, holding the best player on the Cougars' squad, Faisal Aden to 4-17 shooting and, although not shooting well from the field being clutch from the line. Lee did all this with a bad knee:

Washington State (19-11, 9-9) had the ball with the score tied at 54-54 in the final minute of overtime when Honeycutt read a play and knocked the ball to teammate Reeves Nelson, whose pass to Lee resulted in Lee being fouled underneath the Bruins' basket with 6.9 seconds remaining.

Lee, whose two free throws with 8.9 seconds left in regulation had sent the game into overtime, made two more from the line to give UCLA a 56-54 lead. Anderson then forced a turnover in the backcourt when he deflected a ball off Washington State's Marcus Capers with 5.6 seconds to go.

The Cougars fouled Lee again and he made two more free throws, his clutch foul shooting more than offsetting a two-for-10 performance from the field.

"I wanted the ball in that situation," said Lee, who is scheduled to undergo an MRI on the knee he injured when he landed hard late in regulation. "I knew I could knock them down."

As a result of all this UCLA earned the #2 seed in the Pac-10 tournament:

UCLA will open play in the first game of Thursday's evening session (6:00 pm) versus the winner of Wednesday night's game between No. 7 seed Oregon and No. 10-seed Arizona State.

As the guy who picked UCLA to finish second in the preseason BN poll I should feel good but after last night the guy who picked us 8th, while wrong, has something to crow about. One thing is sure, CBH was very happy last night.  So happy he kissed a reporter

After the Bruins started this season 3-4, Howland did an interview with L.A. Daily News reporter Jon Gold, who asked if the Bruins could go on a roll and finish with 22 wins. Howland told Gold if that happened, he'd kiss him. Saturday, reminded of the conversation, he delivered.

"And I mean that kiss," Howland said after planting one on Gold's forehead. "I am so happy, you have no idea."

I know some will question Ben Ball after last night's win, some like CBH, will be ecstatic with the Bruins ability to comeback and win 19 games after a 3-4 start and last year's debacle.  While the game was certainly not "kiss worthy," maybe the whole season, warts and all, was.  I guess it is appropriate to close with a quote from the most controversial player, Reeves Nelson, in a Peter Yoon article, that maybe everyone can agree with:

The poor first half Saturday continued a season-long trend of UCLA being unable to play well for 40 minutes and ultimately that cost them the conference title. A Feb. 20 loss at California and Thursday's loss at Washington, the most haunting in the minds of the Bruins.

"It makes you look back and second guess losing at Cal and not executing up at Washington," Nelson said. But I think that if we can’t be first we’d rather be second. We’re going to do everything we can in the short amount of time we have and try and get as good as we can and try to win the Pac-10 tournament and see what we can do in the NCAAs."

Go Bruins.

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