If you were to catch only five minutes of this game, your impression of the Bruins would depend heavily on which five minutes you saw. UCLA jumped out to an 8-0 run on its first four possessions, getting baskets from four different players, and a picture perfect start forced a timeout from Montana State. What occurred after that was possibly the sloppiest 20-25 minutes the Bruins have played this season. UCLA played decent defense throughout that stretch whenever the ball was in front of them. For whatever reason, as soon as the ball went up in the air, the effort stopped, and the result was rebounds and loose balls galore for the Bobcats. As it turns out, this didn't burn the Bruins in the first half. A hot start from Malcolm Lee and Reeves Nelson helped offset Tyler Honeycutt's turnover plagued half and UCLA went into the break with a 36-29 halftime lead. Not bad, but certainly much closer than it should have been.
All the Bruins would need to do is come out of the locker room focused on playing defense until the end of the possession and they would pull away and win this one easily. So of course they did none of those things, and then made things worse by losing track of their men on the perimeter, opening up wide open looks for Montana St.'s shooters that they were more than happy to knock down. Before you knew it, the Bruins were down by 3 with 14 minutes remaining and it looked like UCLA was in danger of going 0-fer against the state of Montana. It was then that Honeycutt decided to show up to the game and hit 3 of the Bruins' next 4 shots to retake the lead. That appeared to be the spark the team needed as they finally started to secure the ball on defense, and the Bruin lead opened up again down the stretch.
Unfortunately all those things our team was saying earlier about not playing down to our competition turned out to be a bit of a fib. As DCBruins noted: we have to not only "say the right thing, but do the right thing". To be fair, the source of that quote, Malcolm Lee, appeared to do all he could to bring the necessary effort. The same could be said of Brendan Lane, and Joshua Smith was solid. The rest of the team, however, especially the Toolbox, need to show that same urgency. The solid efforts of three players drew us even with Montana St. tonight. It's up to players like TH and Nelson, who clearly have the talent, to take this team over the top. TH was able to summon that up tonight, but it wouldn't have been needed if he had shown that in the first half.
The Bruins have one more game, against UCI, to show that they can bring the effort and execution they brought to BYU and Kansas before conference play begins. Too many stretches like the middle 20 minutes tonight will give Bruin fans nightmares of last year's team.
(According to Jon Gold, TH will have an MRI tomorrow on the shoulder he dinged up late in the second half tonight. Hope he's okay, because this team won't go far without him)