UCLA Captian Lazeric Jones #11 of the UCLA Bruins had a near complete game in leading UCLA to victory over Stanford. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
UCLA won the kind of game it would have lost earlier in the year in the Pac-12. Josh Smith was limited by foul trouble. The Bruins who have been very good taking care of the ball this year made a lot of turnovers. The Cardinal made a number of runs against the Bruins. But that is just it: UCLA had answers last night to most of their problems and won the game.
First, at times this season when Lazeric Jones was taking the most shots for UCLA that was a bad thing. The last two times Zeek shot 15 or more times in a game was UCLA's lost weekend in Oregon. Also, the last Stanford game will be remembered when Zeek tried to force the game winner and was blocked. Last night Zeek played very well and within himself for a near complete game:
UCLA had a score to settle against Stanford, having endured a one-point loss on the road that ended with Lazeric Jones' potential game-winning shot getting blocked at the buzzer.
Jones was the catalyst in the Bruins' 72-61 victory Thursday night, with 21 points, six assists and six steals.
"We were upset that we got that loss," he said. "We really fought and stayed in it up there. Not only did we want this game, the fans were out there supporting us and wanted this game."
While Zeek was the leader, it was a team effort. Unlike most of this season, UCLA started the game well. But more importantly, for the second straight game UCLA held onto the lead (emphasis mine):
The Bruins (14-10, 7-5 Pac-12) got out to a massive lead early and then held on for dear life, blowing open a 25-9 lead in the first 11 minutes of the game and then fending off every Cardinal parry for the rest of the game.
While the Cardinal (16-8, 6-6) did respond with a good rally to put itself back into the game by cutting the deficit to 56-53 with just 4:45 left in the game, it was never able to grab a lead and fully swing the momentum back its way.
Senior guard Lazeric Jones led the way for UCLA with 21 points, while Travis Wear added 13 and Jerime Anderson contributed 12. Altogether, the Bruins improved to 11-3 at home and notched their fourth victory in their last five games. . . .
The Bruins turned in the eleven-point margin of victory due to some late fouling by the Cardinal, and with the loss, Stanford has now lost two games in a row and five of its last six after it was tied for first back in mid-January.
CBH loves defense and hates zone. CBH was effusive in his praise of the Bruins defense last night. In the first game he felt the Bruins had to play zone, this time he felt they were good enough in their man-to-man to not need zone. I am not sure if this is good long term as it seems likely they will need zone again.
UCLA (14-10, 7-5 Pac-12) had six steals in the game's first nine minutes and Stanford (16-8, 6-6) committed 13 turnovers in the first half, finishing with 22 for the game. The Bruins also added 11 blocks, including three each by Anthony Stover and Travis Wear.
"Our defense has improved," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "You think about how our defense was the first time we played them the first time - we had to go to zone because we couldn't stop them."
Added Wear: "We were rotating - the bigs did a great job of rotating and getting blocked shots. We tried to wall up. It was a tightly called game so we were just trying to wall up."
But against Stanford this was enough:
The Cardinal finished with as many turnovers, 22, as field goals. UCLA had a season-high 15 steals and 11 blocked shots.
But the game was not perfect. UCLA also played against type in a bad way:
Yet what could have a much-needed breather was filled with hyperventilation-type moments throughout the second half. UCLA turned over the ball 19 times.
In addition to the unusual turnover problem (UCLA is the best in the PAC-12 at not turning the ball over), UCLA "good" free throw shooters continue to struggle:
The Bruins made only 17-of-27 free throws for 63 percent and hit only 9-of-16 in the final 1:52. Luckily their lead was big enough to hold on, but in a tighter game it would have been a major problem as it has been in other games.
UCLA is shooting 65.9 percent from the line for the season and has lost at least three games because of poor free-throw shooting. Travis Wear, the team's leading free-throw shooter at 84.3 percent coming into the game, made only 3-of-6. Jones, an 81 percent shooter last season, missed a pair of free throws in the waning minutes.
So UCLA had a nice home win where they showed they could withstand another teams runs and win with Josh being a non-factor. However, Stanford is a team coming apart. Cal is not. The Cal game is a game the Bruins will have to play at a higher level and may be their toughest left this year. It will go to test how improved the defense really is. While this team is definitely better than the first time they played Stanford, how much better will be determined when they play Cal Saturday.
The Bruins, 14-10 overall and 7-5 in conference play, can get one Saturday against a California team that methodically disassembled UCLA, 85-69, on Dec. 31, leaving the Bruins with an extra New Year's resolution: Play better defense. . . .
"We're looking forward to playing this team and showing more than we did the last time," Stover said.
I am sure they will, I hope it is enough to win. Go Bruins!