It's been a long, odd, frustrating season so far. Part of that weirdness is the scheduling of the John R. Wooden Classic being a conference matchup at the Honda Center rather than a marquee nonconference tilt as it normally is. We also learned before the game that Joshua Smith would not be available for the first time this season (in body, but not really in mind). This deprived the Bruins of a potentially favorable matchup against the undersized Wildcats.
Then the Wears happened.
Whether it was the spirit of Coach getting the 6' 10" twins to finally play like they were 6' 10" or merely the knowledge that Smith would not be there weighing down the offense and anchoring their defense, the Wears collectively put together a game on both ends of the floor that made me want more from them for the first time all season.
Indeed, for the first 30 minutes of the game, it was not only the Wears, but the majority of the team that could seem to do no wrong. UCLA exploited its height advantage repeatedly (what a concept...), which led to a nearly 50% shooting percentage for the most of the game while holding the Wildcats under 40%.
Sadly, such prosperity rarely lasts with this team, and an unfortunate turning point occurred when Tyler Lamb came down hard off of a foul. As he lay on the deck in pain, a classless, bush league "U of A (holes)" chant started up while our training staff tended to Lamb. A few typical SPTR foul calls later on the already foul troubled Wears, and a few Arizona baskets later and it looked like all that had gone right for UCLA was about to go very wrong. David Wear fouled out on a incredibly weak call with 5 minutes remaining and the Wildcats would end up closing to within 3 points off of a 7-0 run.
Fortunately, Tyler Lamb would end up returning to action, and made key plays down the stretch defensively along with Travis Wear to ice the game for UCLA and send the classless U of A fans home as losers.
It must be very concerning to Ben Howland to watch how this team is doing without Smith in the lineup. There's a limit to the "addition by subtraction" maxim, but it can't be a good sign that removing players is helping the team play more cohesively. Next up, perhaps Lazeric Jones, whose rather poor offensive play in the last ten minutes seemed to be largely responsible for the Arizona comeback.
There's also the question of how good Arizona really is, which seems to be "not very". This is the third time all season the Wildcats have ventured out of McKale and their only victory out of those three games is a close one against New Mexico State.
Whatever the circumstances, the Bruins' 65-58 victory was sorely needed after they got skunked on the NorCal road trip. Next up, a severely undermanned Arizona State team.