Tonight truly was a story of two halves. After sleepwalking through much of the first half (Malcolm Lee excluded), the Bruins retired to the locker room down by 8 points at the half. Coach Howland must have raised a massive stink in the locker room, because the Bruins returned to Wooden Court with a completely different mindset. After Malcolm Lee kept the Bruin boat afloat in the early stretches of the game, Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt came alive to lead a 51-point second half outburst resulting in an 80-71 win (boxscore here) over a strong Washington State squad.
The first 8 minutes saw a fairly even battle, with UCLA peaking with a 4-point lead at the 8:03 mark on a Reeves Nelson jumper. The Bruins would only score 2 points in the following 6 minutes as Washington State would take advantage of the Bruin lethargy, going on a 15-0 run over 4 minutes to take control near the midpoint of the game, peaking with an 11-point lead with 4 minutes remaining in the half. Lee was the bright spot of this half of the game for the Bruins, keeping Klay Thompson under control in the early minutes (and to 6-17 for the game), while scoring 12 points in the half, and 21 for the game (sharing the team lead with Reeves Nelson).
The Wazzu run showed the Bruins displaying many frustrating aspects of their recent play. When the Cougars got hot, the Bruins started rushing shots in response, particularly from long range, but without much success (2-11 in the first half). Despite Joshua Smith not entering foul trouble until later in the first half, and Nelson's foul situation not being an issue in the half, Wazzu was dominating the Bruins on the boards well into the second half. For at least the second straight game, the Bruins spent much of the game avoiding aggressively going to the hoop and trying to draw fouls, having only attempted 4 FT's entering the final 10 minutes of the game. While not limited to the Cougar run, the Bruins were struggling mightily on defense during the middle of the first half. While the improved effort later in the game masked the issue somewhat, the team - Nelson and Zeke to name two - were really struggling with rotations. While a high level of effort from players like Nelson (when evident) can overcome many of this team's weaknesses, we will not be seeing another of our classic Ben Ball teams on the court in 2011.
As I noted in the intro, The Bruins came out for the second half with a much improved attitude and mindset. Reeves Nelson particularly displayed a level of effort missing earlier in the contest, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the latter 20 minutes. Coupled with his 11 rebounds, Reeves had one of two UCLA double-doubles tonight; Lazeric Jones finished with 10 points and 11 assists (and just 1 turnover). Zeke was not perfect tonight, but at least showing the ability to be competent at the point while not making many mistakes, which is the best we have for this season. Tyler Honeycutt was another Bruin who turned on the gas after the half, finishing the game with 14 points and 9 rebounds, while making a pair of Kevin Love-length outlet passes. Josh Smith's minutes were again limited by foul trouble, but was a difference-maker during his time on the court (17 minutes: 8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals). After an opening half in which Washington State dominated the boards, the Bruins came back to nearly equalize the rebounding battle (35-32 WSU on the boards), while for the game, the team went 16-24 from the line, 20 of those attempts coming in the final 10 minutes.While the free throw shooting was not spectacular tonight, there was a spell of clutch shooting from the line. A Key stretch of this game occurred with around 4-6 minutes remaining in the game. In that 2 minute stretch, Reeves Nelson, Brendan Lane and Josh Smith each went to the line to shoot 2 FT's. Each of the three connected on each of their attempts. All too often this season or last, we would see our bigs put in that late game position hit 1 or 2 of those combined 6 shots, and open the door for the opposition to get back into the game. While Reeves and Smith would miss attempts from the line in the waning moments of the game, holding the line at that moment allowed the Bruins to extend their lead to 10 points by the end of that stretch.
The Bruins next play Washington in an early New Years Eve game, 1pm on Friday at Pauley Pavilion. This is your postgame thread