Well at least Malcolm Lee had a great game. The Bruins' junior guard scored early, late, and in between, lifting his team from a rather uninspired performance to finally put away the Oregon Ducks late in the second half for a 64-54 decision at Pauley Pavilion (box score).
UCLA maintains its one game lead in the loss column over Washington and remains a game behind Arizona in second place in the Pac 10. In big (dance) picture terms, the Bruins held serve, and avoided another "bad loss", because no matter how well Oregon had been playing recently, losing to a .500 team at home would not have looked good.
As always, the devil is in the details, and another slow start for the Bruins offensively was caused partially by Oregon deploying the full court zone press that St. John's had used to some effect in UCLA's previous game. It appeared that few lessons were learned, with the Bruins firing (and missing) from outside, and making little effort to find the seams in the Ducks' D. Combine that with the porous Bruin defense giving up layups in transition to Oregon guards, and it looked like we were in for another classic trap game. Fortunately for the Bruins, neither team played particularly well. The Ducks also had trouble filling up the basket on their own, and a poorly played half led to a 3 point halftime lead for Oregon.
The malaise continued into the second half, and foul trouble for the Bruins' main difference maker, Joshua Smith, limited his effectiveness throughout the game. The big man picked up his fourth foul in the middle of the second half and would not return to the floor. With the Bruins and Ducks largely battling to a draw for the first 30 minutes, it was a matter of waiting for UCLA's advantages, mainly size and rebounding, to manifest itself into a lead on the scoreboard. Sparked by a timely triple from Jerime Anderson, the Bruins retook the lead for good and rode Lee and Reeves Nelson offensively to the end.
Although the Ducks ended up with just 54 points on sub 40% shooting, it would be a stretch to say that this was caused by the Bruin defense. The best thing they did in that respect was maintain their advantage on the defensive glass and limit Oregon's opportunities. While UCLA's defensive intensity did pick up as they were making their late charge to put the game away, the big difference was cutting down on the turnovers that have plagued this team, and that kept Oregon in this game through 30+ minutes of the game.
It is interesting, although not surprising, that the three guard lineup has become a go-to lineup of sorts for CBH. Given the predictions from the preseason, the emergence of Anderson, and the steady play of Lazeric Jones has made this lineup tenable, and it leads to Tyler Honeycutt shifting his role from scoring to rebounding, which is a good thing considering what a terrible offensive slump he's been in since, well, Kansas.
So the Bruins pull out a game they should have won, even if they may not have deserved it for most of the game. Exact same situation applies to Saturday's game against Oregon State. The Bruins need to take care of business at home and not get caught looking ahead to a traditionally tough Bay Area trip. The momentum is there for this team, and they need to seize it while we go through the weaker part of our remaining schedule, because it will only get tougher from here.