In the last of our four "must win" games, the Bruins shook off an awful first ten minutes to shut down Stanford defensively and pull away for a 68-57 win. (Box Score)
Whether it was a late brunch at Covel for the boys in blue, or our classic Saturday swoon, the Bruins did not look up to the task today early on. Stanford opened up with an 8-0 run, including two 3 pointers, and all UCLA could do to answer was turn the ball over, again and again. In the first ten minutes, the Bruins gave up offensive rebounds, and the Cardinal had their way inside, stretching the UCLA deficit to 14 points. At this point, it surely looked like the postseason prospects for the Bruins were fading.
The rest of the game? All Bruins.
For the remainder of the half, Stanford managed just 5 points, and had a 23 point second half going through 17 minutes. For the game, the Cardinal ended up shooting just 31%. Stanford is not a spectacular offensive team by any stretch of the imagination, but the pressure on the perimeter from Malcolm Lee and Tyler Lamb, and on the interior from Tyler Honeycutt and an invigorated Anthony Stover, clearly got to the Cardinal. In fact, it may have been the longest stretch of old school Ben Ball defense I've seen in at least a year, maybe more, and that's something that should bring a smile to the faces of Bruin fans everywhere.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the win was that it all happened with Joshua Smith still sidelined from the effects of the hit he took in the previous game against Cal. In his absence, we were left with two rather unappealing options; Brendan Lane and Stover. Well fortunately Stover picked this game to be his coming out party, generally playing good positional defense on the interior and being a menacing shot blocker, making Stanford think twice about penetration. Stover ended up with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks and altered countless others. He had an overall impact that few believed he could.
As the Bruins struggled early, it was Malcolm Lee that helped keep the deficit manageable, scoring 9 of our first 14 points of the game. He was active throughout the game, more on the offensive end this time, and had 23 points, including 9-10 on free throws. It also seemed as if the reversal of the Bruins' fortunes coincided with CBH bringing out the three guard lineup. Although Anderson and Zeke didn't have great shooting games, Jones took advantage of the STPRs that hurt us so badly last game and bulled his way to the basket, picking up a ton of fouls on Stanford up and down their roster. Zeke had 17 points while shooting 3-10, all because he was able to get to the line 11 times and make 10 of them.
Tyler Honeycutt didn't have a great shooting game either (6-15), but it seemed like all of his baskets came when we needed them the most. Also appreciated; his help defense (4 blocks) and rebounding (8). We've also been critical of Reeves Nelson in the past for his inconsistent effort, but this was clearly one of his better games, even while only scoring 4 points. He wasn't forcing anything, and his man defense didn't leave us much to complain about. He picked up 10 rebounds (an effort stat) and showed his toughness by gritting through what looked to be a nasty ankle injury and finished the game.
With the win, we've gotten through our stretch of must win games. Some have been shakier than others, but this last one showed what we can be when we're committed on the defensive end. Even without Smith, the Bruins pulled out a big win, and may have found a new contributor off the bench in Stover. The four game stretch may have also proven the worth of the more dynamic three guard lineup, and I for one hope to see us go to it more.
The Bruins move to 13-6 and 5-2 in conference, setting up a showdown on Thursday night in Tucson for second place in the Pac 10. A win there, and UCLA's dance card suddenly looks a lot better. If the Bruins bring the defense they played for the last 30 minutes of this game into the desert, there's no reason why they can't pull out the W.