One year after an ugly and embarrassing performance in front of Coach, the Bruins redeemed themselves and picked up a much needed victory against the #16 ranked and previously unbeaten BYU Cougars 86-79 in the John R. Wooden Classic (box score). With the win, UCLA notches its first "good" win of the year, and brings the Pac 10 conference a much needed victory. The Bruins move to 6-4 on the year.
The first half started poorly, as CBH, who had stressed the need to play great transition defense, could only stand and watch as his team surrendered transition baskets en route to an early 10 point deficit. In what would become a trend, Joshua Smith picked up his first foul under a minute into the game, and for Bruin fans, the sight was all too familiar. Whether it was CBH's timeout, or if it was Coach lending some inspiration, the Bruins picked their defense up from that point, and the rest of the half would be marked by BYU turnovers and a relatively balanced Bruin attack led by Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt, and Lazeric Jones.
At this point in the season, it can be said that the Bruins really only put together two good halves in the same game once; against Kansas. That game was a loss, but if UCLA was to pick up its first good win of the season, the second complete game of the year would have to come today. The Bruins came out of the locker room looking inspired, and extended the lead to 13, before a parade of whistles forced Smith to the bench for extended periods of time. Joining him on the bench for a while for the same reason was Honeycutt and Jones, and the game not surprisingly got tight with the Bruins nursing a 2 point lead. BYU, who had been riding their star point guard Jimmer Fredette in the first half, turned to forward Brandon Davies to carry them, and the Bruins found themselves in a desperate situation. CBH brought Smith back in with 10 minutes to play and the big freshman along with Nelson put the beatdown on BYU inside, and even found a way to pick Fredette clean at the end of the game to cap things off.
We've talked at length about the need to make the tournament this year, and why this game in particular was so important to achieving that goal. The Bruins not only pulled out a victory, and not only showed a lot of improvement in team play and smart decisions and effort, but they were able to do Coach proud in the game that bears his namesake.
Usually at this point, I'd go down the list and point at the stats for each player that stood out, but I don't think that's necessary tonight. The takeaway here is that the Bruins played as, and won as, a team. They picked each other up when key players had to go to the bench with foul trouble, and locked down and dialed in when faced with adversity. They were able to "perform at their best when their best was required", and you know Coach was smiling about that.
Next game is against Montana St. on Tuesday.
We miss you Coach.