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UCLA Hoops Roundup: Passing the Chemistry Test

It always starts with the D. <a href="">Photo Credit: b d</a>
It always starts with the D. Photo Credit: b d

UCLA destroyed UCI 89-60 last night in a game that was not that close. While UCI is a bad offensive team, they are not a bad defensive or rebounding team. Yet UCLA dominated them in a team effort:

UCLA made half of their 18 three-point attempts and shot 60.6% from the field after intermission to finish a season-best 54.8% for the game (34 of 62). The Bruins, with three 6-foot-10 players in the front court, had 38 points in the paint, to UCI's 14. UCLA's 12 offensive rebounds also produced 15 second-chance points, 11 more than the Anteaters managed.

The Bruins had five double-figure scorers, led by freshman reserve guard Norman Powell, who had a career-high 19. Powell was four of six from three-point range.

The team chemistry was impressive, especially between the two stars of the game Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb:

"I feel like every day I'm improving," said Powell, who had a well-rounded stat line of 19 points (a game-high), seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. "In practice going against Tyler Lamb, he's going to make me work. He gives me his information and input on how his freshman year went."

"Norman has so much potential," said Lamb, who had 17 points. "He's learning more and more every day. He works very hard, he listens. That's going to help him a lot. I think he's going to be a very, very good player."

They've remained connected during games, with spectacular results. For the second straight game, Powell caught an alley-oop from Lamb and finished with a two-handed dunk, the highlight of Powell's best performance this year.

"We've been working on that all week in practice," Powell said with a grin. "The pass from Lamb, you know, perfect pass. That's two games in a row now he's hit me with the lob, so I was pretty excited."

Lamb and Powell could easily be in a cut throat competition with each other since going into the season they were consider to be fighting for minutes at the same position. Yet the two are working well together and there was a nice moment at the end of the game between the two when they congratulated each other. They are also saying the right things about each other:

The duo of Powell, off of the bench, and Lamb, who's started every game for the Bruins this year combined for 36 points in the Bruins 89-60 win over UC Irvine. . . .

Practicing everyday against Lamb is helping him find his way at the collegiate level.

"I feel like everyday I'm improving. In practice going against Tyler Lamb, he's going to make me work and talk to me about it. He gives me his information and input on how his freshman year went, so I feel like my development at the college level is really well," said Powell, who finished with a game high 19 points off of the bench to go along with seven rebounds.

"Norman has so much potential. He's learning more and more everyday and he works very hard and he listens. That's going to help him a lot and I think he's going to be a very, very good player," said Lamb.

Anyone think Reeves ever said anything nice about Brendan Lane?

Of course Powell is causing some fans to think of another #4 who played for UCLA. This quote sounds a little AA like(emphasis mine):

His 19-point, seven-rebound game followed an eight-point, 10-rebound game on Saturday and probably earned Powell more minutes going forward. . . .

Powell credited his improved play to getting used to the college level and committing to defense.

"My game tonight was basically being aggressive on defense," he said. "Trying my best on defense. Coach always says your defense brings offense."

While not ever an excuse to losing to the likes of LMU, it is scary to think that every Scholarship player except Brendan Lane. Josh Smith, and Jerime Anderson has been hurt. (And Anderson with his suspension and Smith with his weight have had issues.) Stover was held out of the game with an eye injury to be evaluated today. In the hype of Powell I forgot that he too started the year hurt:

"Norman really had a good game," Howland said. "He only had 12 rebounds in the his first nine games and now he's had 17 in his last two. That shows improvement. Norman is getting better and better. This is what we expected from him with more opportunities. He still makes freshman mistakes, but he's improving. We need him."

Powell's slow start was in large part to a knee injury, but he was also hospitalized when he suffered an allergic reaction during a recent practice that required him to be hospitalized.

With the knee improving, Howland said Powell can turn his game up even further.

"Sense of urgency," Howland said. "That's what I want his mantra to be."

But even though Powell stole the headlines with Lamb, it was a team effort.

We played well as a team tonight," Lamb said. "UC Irvine focused so much on our front court that we were able to get open shots. The way we were playing tonight, we were getting stops on defense and we were able to run and get buckets in transition."

The Anteaters' strategy worked early as they managed to keep the game tied at 10 with 12 minutes left in the first half. Smith had just two free throws to that point, but the Bruins kept working it inside-out and went on a 32-18 run to close the half.

"We got off to a little bit of a slow start, but our defense started to improve and we started executing offensively," Howland said. "I was really proud of the rebounding, and in the second half we did a better job of field-goal defense." . . .

"We're much improved," Howland said. "It's just a better, cohesive unit. Guys are really good on and off the floor together, and that's big for us."

While UCI and UC Davis are definitely not good teams, it was nice to see UCLA play, as they should, 40 minutes. This is a better TEAM than at the start of the year. UCI's Coach Russell Turner agreed in his postgame comments:

"UCLA has improved a tremendous amount since the beginning of the season," Turner said.

While I think there are a number of factors for this improvement (including health), one that cannot be overlooked is the obvious fact that UCLA is 4-0 since Reeves left.

Is it because volatile forward Reeves Nelson was dismissed Dec. 9?

"That's the reason why I removed Reeves," Howland said. "It has improved our chemistry."

So while before the season started saying we beating UCI would have been a meh, the way in which it was won and the fact the team continues to improve, is a reason to look forward with some guarded optimism. This team can make some noise if they stick together and play 40 minutes all the time.

The way his team was sharing the basketball, even the ever-subdued Ben Howland couldn't help but crack a smile from the sidelines. . . .

"That's exactly what we like," said Howland of the balanced attack. "We'd like to have four to five guys every night in double figures. That was beautiful." . . .

"You can see there is good chemistry with the team right now," Howland said. "Guys are pulling for one another, and it's good to see them get excited for their teammates when they are making good plays."

Go Bruins!