If this year's edition of UCLA basketball needed any reminders why it's important to play the full 40 minutes, this should be it. It is a shame that such reminders are needed at this stage in the season against one of the better opponents we've faced this year. All told, the Huskies ended up the victors at Pauley handing the Bruins a 74-63 loss. (Box Score)
Behind 21 points from Matthew Bryan-Amaning and 17 from Isaiah "Nut-grabber" Thomas, the Huskies took advantage of an awful 3 minute stretch in the second half where a manageable 5 point UCLA deficit ballooned to 17. Defense was nowhere to be found in that period as Husky guards and forwards were able to penetrate into the middle at will, and the Bruins handed out offensive rebounds like Christmas candy.
On the game, UCLA would end up shooting an putrid 35%, which isn't all that surprising considering that Washington's clear advantage at guard enabled perimeter pressure and helped keep our offense out of sorts. Once again, foul trouble for Joshua Smith limited his minutes and the one clear advantage the Bruins had in this game was negated by the pine.
Although the Bruins would battle back to within four points behind a hard charging Reeves Nelson, his outburst only highlighted how quiet his first half was. While the team as a whole generally brought the effort outside of the 3 minute defensive lapse mentioned earlier, individual players seemed to mentally check in and out of the game, and Reeves was and is one of the biggest offenders. He ended up with 19 points, but it could have been a Tyler Honeycutt at Kansas type of afternoon for him considering how easily he was able to take Husky forwards off the dribble.
One of the keys to the game was to make sure the PG matchup was not completely lopsided and on that count, the Bruins failed. Part of that was the injury to Lazeric Jones that took him out of part of the first half, but while the Bruin guards didn't turn it over, they also did not make themselves threats on the offensive end (besides Malcolm Lee's 12 points). This allowed the Husky guards to not only help crowd the middle for Smith, but to conserve some of that energy for the offensive end.
It's telling that outside of that 3 minute stretch, where the Huskies went on a 12-0 run, the game was even. However, the defense played during that time was all too familiar to Bruin fans who have seen this team play this season. It's not something that can be written off as an aberration. If I may propose a New Years' resolution to this team; stay engaged in the game and communicate on defense for all 40 minutes. Maybe that 17 point deficit isn't as deep if Reeves starts his offensive onslaught with more than 12 minutes remaining in the game. Maybe the Bruins claw all the way back if Honeycutt (who was saddled with foul trouble early) developed some sort of rhythm. 4-12 shooting isn't good enough for a big game like this from one of our star players.
Not the ideal way to send out the old year, but perhaps an appropriate one. In any case, everyone please stay safe tonight, and we'll see you next year.