Awful start? Check.
The "Bad Bruins" were disinterested early, giving up layups and dunks on Arizona State's first six made baskets. The porous Bruin defense was beaten every which way: Off the dribble, over the top, off the bounce. Because of the Bruins' clear advantage in the interior, the sight of both Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith getting beaten so badly inside was enough to give fans nightmares of a loss to last place ASU and a season quickly circling the drain.
Malcolm Lee keeping the team in it? Check.
The Bad Bruins weren't just bad on the defensive end. In the first ten minutes, UCLA had a grand total of 9 points, and Lee was the owner of 6 of them. Seemingly the only player attacking the ASU zone and not just settling for jump shots; UCLA once again relied on their Captain's energy and focus.
Alarm Clock goes off? Check.
Perhaps the 8 PM start was too early for the guys, but they eventually started to work up a sweat. It started on the defensive end, as these things usually do. Blocks and steals by Nelson, Smith, and even Lazeric Jones kickstarted Bruin fast breaks and stunted all the momentum ASU had going for them in the first ten minutes. The UCLA offensive attack was balanced and was highlighted by some big threes from Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee and a Smith dunk to end the half. The Bruins scored 30 points in just 9 minutes, and ASU looked stunned as all they had to show for their hot start was a 10 point halftime deficit.
Turn the ball over, make things interesting
Return of the Zeek? Check.
Maybe that taped finger was a big problem after all. Jones, who is still nursing a bum wrist, was finally able to play without the tape on his shooting hand, and had his best game by far in recent memory. The addition of a solid ball handler surely contributed to the heavily reduced turnover numbers tonight, as our normally turnover-prone forwards were not called upon as much to make plays. Instead, Zeek turned those lost possessions into 10 assists, which along with his 10 points gave him a double double on the night. His steadying influence helped stave off the second half swoon that this team is so famous for having, and his return couldn't come at a better time.
At the end of the night, the Bruins kept ASU at bay 71-53, and also notched their 20th win in the penultimate game in "Old Pauley". Thanks to the Trogans' upset win over Arizona, the final game at Old Pauley is going to be a rager, and first place in the conference will once again be on the line. The previous loss to Cal now looks like an even bigger opportunity lost, but now with two terrible starts in a row, perhaps that will be the incentive UCLA needs to finally play with passion and intensity from the start. Arizona will not be a happy team and will look to take out tonight's frustration on the Bruins. The return of Zeek is a great sign, and it'll be up to him and Lee to set the tone early, rather than letting our frontcourt dictate the pace.
Beating last place ASU at home was something we were supposed to do. They're in last place for a reason. That is not a statement. The next game will be, one way or another.
First place game. Last game in Old Pauley. No Excuses.