Living on the East Coast the Arizona State game with a 11 p.m. start was a game to miss. I was very confident we were going to win. If I did miss it, I could have gotten up and read the box score and thought. Hmm, up by 10 at half, win by 18, five players in double figures, good job Bruins for the easy victory!
But I watched the game. The first minutes of the game UCLA could not beat an intramural team.
After coming out asleep in the first half of its four-point overtime loss to Cal last Sunday, the UCLA men's basketball team vowed to set the tone early against Arizona State on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.
Only the guitar was missing two strings, the strings that were left were made out of glass, and the whole thing was painfully out of tune.
The Bruins shot 1-for-10 to start the game as the Sun Devils got easy baskets, making seven of eight shots to take an 11-point lead.
Tydides has been saying this for months. The Bruins just can't seem to play 40 minutes. That is usually not the sign of a good team. As a matter of fact, listen to last place ASU talk about their game:
The Sun Devils jumped out to a 21-9 lead midway through the first half, dominating early on. It appeared as if the momentum from a win against Washington State on Saturday, which snapped the Sun Devils’ 11-game conference losing streak, was spilling over.
Then things changed in a hurry and it was all UCLA the rest of the way, as the Bruins outscored ASU by 30.
UCLA closed the first half on a 30-8 run and never looked back on its way to blowing out the Sun Devils 71-53 at Pauley Pavilion.
"You have to compete for 40 minutes," ASU assistant coach Lamont Smith said in his postgame radio interview. "We always have to give maximum effort. Tonight we only played well for six minutes.
An array of steals, strips and blocks by UCLA over the final 91/2 minutes of the first half triggered a 30-8 run that transformed a 12-point deficit into a 10-point halftime lead.
"That's why Coach always preaches defense," UCLA sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "The points will come. Just get stops." . . .
The Bruins matched their intensity on defense with poise on offense, committing only nine turnovers and getting double figures in scoring from five players. Junior guard Malcolm Lee scored 12 of his team-high 16 points in the first half.
Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson and junior guard Lazeric Jones each logged double-doubles for UCLA, Nelson getting 12 points and 12 rebounds and Jones going for 10 points and 10 assists. The Bruins shot 59.1% in the second half and 52% for the game after they made only two of their first 16 shots.
"They beat us back in transition a couple of times and we just started slow," Nelson said. "There's really no excuse for that. I'm glad we woke up and went on a really, really good run."
The real Ben Ball Warriors never slept through parts of games. They did have offensive slumps where JF or AA carried them for bits (as Malcolm Lee did early last night) but never was effort or getting back a problem.
But two quotes from CBH sum up this game and this team.
"This doesn’t feel like an 18-point win," coach Ben Howland said. "I'm just really pleased we got the win."
. . .
"Once we took the lead, we started to settle down," Howland said. "This team does a good job of fighting back from deficits when we’ve had them this year."
This Bruin team does fight but often after a win you don't feel as good as you should. It feels like the problems are of their own making.
So what does this mean? The Bruins will be playing for first place in the last game ever in Old Pauley. Going into the year, I would have taken that in a heart beat.
On Saturday, UCLA (20-8, 11-4) plays host to first-place Arizona (23-5, 12-3), whose loss to USC left the Bruins just one game back heading into the regular-season finale. UCLA, which has won 11 of its past 13 games, lost at Arizona, 85-74, in January.
A year ago at this time the Bruins were about to finish a 14-18 season and fifth-place finish in the Pac-10.
"It goes back to right after last season ended, the returning players made a big commitment," forward Reeves Nelson said. "We all know that UCLA basketball doesn't belong in the middle of the Pac-10 or out of the NCAA Tournament."
Saturday also marks the final game at Pauley until the 2012-13 season.
"It's the most important game of the season," forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "We don't want to let ourselves down."
These guys say the right things. For parts of games they do the right thing. Let's play D for 40 minutes and we will be back in first place and a surprising end for the last game at Old Pauley. Maybe not as shocking as the first game at Pauley where KAJ's freshman team beat the national champs, but almost as shocking from this team. If that happens, it will be a good sign for the future, just as KAJ's team defeat of the varsity was way back in the first game at Pauley.