What a way to cap off of an eventful day for Bruin fans. Starting with the all but certain hiring of a Trogan moron as our football team's defensive coordinator, filling out our recruiting class with a few surprises on NSD, the Torian White saga, the rescinding of the certainty of the aforementioned Trogan moron as DC (that fight is NOT over), and to top it off, the Revenge Game.
The Bruins had inexplicably lost four straight to SUC retread/reject Kevin O'Neill, an embarrassing streak that absolutely had to end tonight. Bruin fans felt the urgency. Would Howland have his players feeling it? Based on their performance in Costco Center, there was a lot of reason to be skeptical, but from the opening tap, it was clear that this was going to be a different game. The hustle and scrappy play kept the Bruins in the lead for most of the game, even when their offense went cold or their defense suffered lapses. Under that pressure, it was SUC who ended up folding down the stretch this time (15 second half points), and the Bruins closed out the Trogans 64-50 (box score).
For the first time in a long time, I got the feeling that these guys cared about this game. Maybe it was the crowd (great job by the Pauley faithful), or these guys smelling the home stretch coming, but whatever it was, CBH needs to bottle it up and feed it to this team from here on out.
The signs were all there. Bruins closing out quickly to the perimeter, and big to big doubles coming a step quicker than we're used to seeing from this team. On offense, Joshua Smith started the festivities with two monstrous jams over Alex Stepheson. UCLA's weakness against SUC is inside, and SUC was able to abuse that on offense against the Bruins, but the early doubles and Smith's dunks made it clear that while the Trogans might get theirs inside, the Bruins would not cede the middle and become the jumpshooting team they were last time around.
While the intensity was up, the Bruins did not play a flawless first half. They were able to cut down on the turnovers, but breakdowns on help after the big to big double allowed SUC's Nikola Vucevic and Stepheson to make the easiest outlet pass rather than a more difficult cross court pass. That's the next step for this team defensively, but for now, against a one trick pony like the Trogans, even that minor disruption was enough. There will be calls for zone defense to stop teams like SUC, but if the remaining forward (most of the time, Honeycutt) would take away the dive after the double team, the Bruin team defense could start reminding us of Final Four years past.
What won't remind us of Bruin teams past is the dribble penetration, which was the Trogans' only other avenue to scoring. Their guards aren't finishers at the rim, and so really the only way they could make an impact was drawing help and dishing to their bigs. Not surprisingly, the Trogans had 32 out of their 50 points coming from Vucevic/Stepheson.
What the Bruins lacked in technical skills and fundamentals, they made up in intensity. Whether it was Reeves Nelson bulling to the basket for an And-1 on the Bruins' first bucket, or Lazeric Jones chasing down a fast break to swat a clueless Donte Smith near the end of the game, UCLA throughout the game brought the intensity we wish they'd show all the time. Malcolm Lee sparked the Bruins early on offense. Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb were solid off the bench, and the Bruins exercised their superior depth to wear down the Trogan starting backcourt which managed a measly 2 points in this contest. For a while, it looked like Tyler Honeycutt was not at the same level of his teammates, that is until I saw the box score where he had 8 rebounds up to that point. I've found plenty about the "toolbox" to complain about this year, but his rebounding has rarely been in the conversation, and that's big. Both he and Reeves Nelson contributed to keeping SUC off the glass even with their superior size, and the Bruins dominated the rebounding category 38-24.
Breaking the streak was necessary. Beating this very average team was necessary (for our tournament profile). But props to them for getting it done, and congratulations to Zeek, who had said that he's not officially a Bruin until he beat the Trogans. Well Zeek, you're a Bruin now, and as a Bruin, it'll be on you to bring that same intensity on Saturday.
In case anyone forgot (yeah right), the Lizard of Westwood slithers into Pauley at 10 AM on Saturday. As great as it is to beat the Trogans, the job is only half done.
The time has come to time to excise the Lavinoma.