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NIT Basketball Game 2: The real test begins tonight, UCLA v. Pacific

The good news about this year's team is they are better than last year's team.  The question of how much better begins tonight.  One of the biggest unnoticed problems from last year was UCLA's dismal 2-8 record in games on 2 days or less rest.  And Pacific is just the kind of team to give us fits, as they did beating favored Nevada last night:

KEY TO THE GAME: Nevada couldn't solve Pacific's zone defense in the second half. The team looked confused on how to attack it and stagnated with only 21 second-half points.

Yep, this has the makings of major problems for UCLA.   No time to prepare and a tough zone.  Oh and Pacific will be highly motivated, for as  Guard Jose Rivera said about playing in Pauley:

"That's exciting, a chance to go the Mecca of basketball," Rivera said. "That's definitely motivation. How can it not be?"

Coach use to brag how he did not scout the other team and how UCLA just played its game.  Well tonight, CBH is going to have to beat a motivated team with a tough zone without real scouting.  UCLA needs to impose its will and execute its style of play as they did against Pepperdine during a late first half run that carried over to the second half.

But a 10-0 run to end the first half gave UCLA a 36-34 halftime lead and the momentum the Bruins needed to start the second half on a 16-2 run to take control of the game with a 52-36 lead.

That spurt is exactly the type of progress that brings a smile to the face of coach Ben Howland, who has a team with no seniors, is starting a freshman at center and has sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt as its top two players.

If you look at UCLA's four games they have all been about a spurt to break open the game.  Against Westmont and CSUN, the spurt was at the start of the game.  Against CSLA, the 32-4 run started half way through the first half.  UCLA needs to play defense and to push it to make these runs happen, as Nelson said (who really got UCLA going in the second half with his defense first, including a very nice block shot): 

The Bruins began to hit the fast break hard, like Howland keeps preaching to them, not that they need his motivation. Then, they crashed to the basket hard on the zone with Nelson, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, leading the way.

"In the first half, we weren’t really pushing as much as we wanted to because we weren’t really getting that many stops," Nelson said. "Once we focused on that we really broke the game open."

Or putting it negatively, as Honeycutt said: 

"We were getting too lazy on defense," Honeycutt said. "Once we started getting stops we got easy transition points, and they weren’t able to get back into the zone." 

That is one of the two ways UCLA will attack the zone.  By pushing it to not give the zone time to set up.  The other is to pound inside to Nelson and Josh Smith, who looked dominant for a time in the second half:

"We did a much better job of attacking the zone in the second half and getting it inside," Coach Ben Howland said. . . .
The wide-bodied Smith also proved to be too much for Pepperdine (0-2) to handle, repeatedly bulling his way in for easy lay-ins midway through the second half on the way to 13 points.

So, we shall see on short rest, no time to prepare and, oh, only 8 scholarship players as Carlino is likely out and captain and starting off guard Malcolm Lee is hurt.   

UCLA played most of the game without Lee after he limped off the court with 14:15 left in the first half. Though X-rays of Lee's ankle were negative, Howland said the junior would be unavailable Tuesday, thrusting freshman Tyler Lamb into the starting lineup.

Tyler Lamb is a similar player to Lee and is a good defender as well.  I don't think it will be as a big a loss as the other starters would be at this point.  However, it leaves the bench very short handed and last night CBH played only Lane and Anderson off the bench in the second half when it mattered.  Lane played very well last night and is a good sixth man.  It does mean that Anderson will play 1 (he looked lost again in the first half) and 2 this game. 

So this game will be tough for UCLA but as CBH said

Howland sure makes it seems as if he knows where UCLA remains in the national college basketball landscape.

When asked if he was surprised that the Bruins were chosen to host a preseason-NIT regional after the team's poor showing last season, Howland was succinct and to the point.

"No. We're UCLA," Howland said during a conference call on Sunday with reporters.

That's right we're UCLA at home tonight, we should win.  Here's hoping we do. 

Go Bruins!