ASU vs. UCLA Basketball Roundup: Smith Playing Like March 2011

Josh pictured here against UCI (via b d) was able throw it down against ASU.

It was an ASU team with 6 players but, in the end, the Bruins did what they were supposed to do and blew out Arizona State. Actually, it some ways this was the first game that looked, in part, at least how we expected the team to look before the year. It was Josh Smith best game of the year and let's late Arizona State Coach Herb Sendak describe what happen (emphasis mine):

UCLA improved to 9-7 and 2-2, and might have put the rest of the conference on notice. Defeating short-handed ASU doesn't do much for the resume, but the Bruins got 18 points (matching a season high) from center Joshua Smith.

In shape, the 6-foot-10, 305-pound Smith gives UCLA a weapon unmatched in the Pac-12. He's not there yet, but coach Ben Howland insists the big man's conditioning is improving.

. . . Catching the ball deep in the paint, Smith had his way with 7-footers Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski. He had a season-high eight field goals on 12 attempts, providing a glimpse of the player who could help UCLA contend.

. . .Said Sendek: "The reality is that he is a mountain of a young man physically, and an outstanding player. ... He just caught the ball in too many instances, too close to the basket and then we fouled him and gave him ‘And-1s.' ... Fouling him is like a fly landing on him. We can't even foul him hard enough to make him miss. Unless they would let us play with a 2-by-4."

Again this was just ASU but it will still nice to see. Ironically another key was the passing of Lazeric Jones. Jones playing his first game as primarily SG, had 10 assists to only one turnover. Feeding the post is best done by the wings and Jones did an outstanding job of it:

Jones moved to shooting guard this week because his style of play seemed better suited to that position, but Saturday he looked more like the point guard he was supposed to be with a season-high 10 assists.

Because of Arizona State's zone defense, UCLA worked the ball around the perimeter and it often ended up in the hands of Jones when a post player got some space inside. He routinely fed Smith and the Wear twins and effectively picked apart the Arizona State zone defense.

Of course Jerime Anderson had a solid game as PG. While Anderson is probably the most physically limited player of the starters, he showed the wisdom that occurs when you work with a coach like Ben Howland for four years:

With less than 15 minutes to play in the second half, Howland decided to apply full-court pressure that helped UCLA's halftime lead to balloon to 10 on a two-hand dunk from Smith.

The idea to press in the second half came from senior guard Jerime Anderson who saw that both of Arizona State's standard point guards were missing.

"I thought our players seized the opportunity to make some plays," Howland said.

The two seniors had their best game together as a tandem.

Jerime Anderson controlled the game on both ends in his new role as point guard, finishing with seven points, four assists, four steals and no turnovers. Lazeric Jones, moved to the wing, dished out 10 assists with but a single turnover.

"Some wonderful passes," Howland said.

But none of the above would disagree it was Smith who had the biggest impact Saturday.

Of course not all the news is good. UCLA again started bad. It seems as if the Bruins starting games woes are not just a matter of zone or man-to-man defense. Yes, UCLA dominated the last 30 minute but, of course, we need to remember this was ASU. This was a really bad team.

Arizona State is not as good as UCLA made them look early on. The Bruins had no business letting the Sun Devils hang around but they were making some tough shots. Credit senior guard Jerime Anderson who alerted Howland that UCLA should press ASU as their two point guards were left home because of suspensions.

The good news is that after the first few minutes UCLA played well. The Bruins had a number of good streaks:

The Sun Devils went more than five minutes without a field goal while the Bruins scored on every possession.

The Bruins closed the first half with nine straight points, including five in a row by Smith despite two fouls, to lead 33-30. Smith's three-point play gave UCLA its first lead of the game with 2:32 left in the half.

The Sun Devils led by 10 points on consecutive 3-pointers by Gilling, who beat the shot clock from the right side in front of UCLA's bench, then came back down and scored from the left side.

From there, the Bruins outscored Arizona State 19-6 the rest of the half. Jones and Jerime Anderson made back-to-back 3-pointers while the Sun Devils were held to one field goal over the final 10 minutes.

And UCLA did show composure.

"We did a good job showing composure," Howland said. "When you're down 10 to them, it's like being down 20 because they play so patiently offensively."

The Bruins even their Pac-12 record with a steady dose of the Wear twins, who followed up dominant performances of their own against Arizona with a combined 24 points and 16 rebounds.

. . .The performances of Smith and the Wear twins were what Howland expected going into this year. It took more than half the season for their dominance to materialize, but Howland likes the direction his team is headed in.

"It was a positive step," Howland said. "(The Wears) played with a lot of physicality this weekend, more so than earlier in the season, and it's helping us."

I know this is repetitive but this game has to be taken with a grain of salt. When I predicted a blow out, I was not exactly going out on a limb. Last weekend's games may have been more instructive and still that is confusing. Are we the team that came within a missed open jumper by Jerime Anderson against Stanford for a good road win or are we the team that got destroyed by Cal in the second half? ASU or USC next are not likely to tell the answer, or better put, they only tell the answer if we lose.

For now, we have a small reason to believe the spin about Josh that he is back and hope the team can, as it must, win the Pac-12 title:

"His weight is down to the best it's been in a year," Howland said. . . .

"I'm very optimistic about his direction, where he's headed right now," Howland said.

Go Bruins. Beat SC!

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