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UCLA Hoops Roundup: Turning Point?

CBH had this to say about last night's game:

Howland did not find much humor in the way his team suffered another long second-half lull, shooting only 33.3% and making only one of seven three-point attempts. But in the end, disaster was averted.

"It's huge," he said. "I mean, could you imagine how we would feel right now if I was sitting here talking about the loss after being up 17? I hope we can look back at the end of the season and say this was a turning point. That would be great."

I think the turning point, if there was one, may be we found a leader, in Lazeric Jones.  It is not just what Jones did at the end (making the clutch shot that gave us the lead and broke the tie) but he was also key to the good Bruin start.

No shot was bigger than the one he hit from just inside the three-point line that gave the Bruins a 59-57 lead with 43 seconds to play.

"We were trying to run one play and everybody started scrambling and I looked up at the clock and saw there was only a couple of seconds left," Jones said of the key shot. "It was in the heat of the moment. I just tried to make a move and get the shot up."

Jones, who made three of his first four shots, including five points during UCLA's 15-5 run to start the game, said it was important for him to get off to a good start.

"It was just about confidence and getting my mind away from the finger," he said. "I knew that if I made a shot it would all come back."

Lazeric is a leader not just in what he did, but in what he said:

"They were just out hustling us," Jones said. "They wanted it more than we did."

Hopefully his teammates will listen.  Of course, all the stories are about Smith, who made his clutch FTs look easy, something other Bruins have not been able to do this year. 

It was gut-check time for UCLA, and Ben Howland went to his biggest gut.

Freshman center Joshua Smith, who was benched for Brendan Lane after being publicly reprimanded by the Pac-10 for his comments regarding officials after UCLA's loss to USC, had two crucial rebounds and hit all four free throws with less than two minutes left.

Smith did this after getting reprimanded:

  • Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, who on Thursday reprimanded Smith for criticizing game officials.  . . .

With UCLA (10-6, 2-2) having blown a 17-point second-half lead and in danger of dropping a third consecutive game, Smith stepped to the foul line four times in the final 2:24 and drained every shot.

"That was phenomenal because he stepped up and knocked down four huge free throws," Howland said. "He did a great job for us down the stretch."

"Should be no pressure at all," Smith recalled telling himself. "Just did my regular routine and just went up and made them."

Smith also led the game in rebounds with 9.

Lastly, for those of you who miss Ben Ball defense, there has been some outstanding defense played by one player, Malcolm Lee.  Yes, Malcolm threw up three air balls but he also completely shut down OSU's leading scorer (as he has done to Jimmer Fredette and Klay Thompson) who had been averaging 19 in his last 6 games.  As Jon Gold wrote:

I would be remiss if I didn't mention his great defense on Jared Cunningham.

Oregon State's leading scorer at almost 15 points per game, Cunningham went 1-for-9 and didn't score his first points until just 8:37 remained in the game. Cunningham had a little spurt in the second half where it looked like he rejuvenated, but Lee once again put the clamps on him, and he finished with five points.

Lee was very good on-ball and even off-ball on Cunningham, and his defense was a real key for UCLA to pull out what even seems like a disappointing win.

The bright side: Washington and USC both lost, to Stanford and Oregon, respectively, and everything is wide open in the Pac-10.

Which brings us to where this team is.  If you look at the season just in W-L, UCLA has almost done what it is suppose to do.  Throw out the Montana game (and maybe VCU) on one side and maybe the BYU game on the other side, and they have won the games they have supposed to win and lost the games they were underdogs in. 

Of course the devil is in the details and these Bruins have looked ugly at times, usually for lengthy periods during every game.  One would think that this is likely to catch up on them soon.   And the bigger question, will the PAC 10 get more than 2 teams in the Tourney? UCLA needs to win all the games it "should" and a few more to make the big dance this year.  

Go Bruins.