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UCLA Basketball Roundup: Becoming a Good Team

You would think there would be a lot of articles to sort through post a national televised game between a New York Big East Team and UCLA.  There were, but they were all about Steve Lavin.   And the biggest pro Lavin piece was written not by a New Yorker but legendary fishwrap Bruin hater T.J. Simmers.  I don't want to link the trash which argues that Lavin is a better coach than CBH. Yes, you read that right. 

It is hard to take Lavin as a coach too seriously.  Since his best hope to win was/is jungle ball.  Set offense, not necessary.  Hey, it works sometimes for unexpected wins (and worked early yesterday) but it also leads to unnecessary losses.  But good coaches do not lose games they should win.  With one exception (Montana), UCLA has won the games it was supposed to win this year and if it can keep doing it will go to the Tourney. 

So let me lead with a quote from the fishwarp pro-Trojan UCLA Basketball writer Ben Bloch about Lavin and then turn to the game:

There was something comfortingly familiar for UCLA fans about Steve Lavin's return to Pauley Pavilion.

His team lost.

Onto the game after the jump:


Reeves Nelson had the shot that iced the game.  It is interesting how it was set up

With just three seconds on the shot clock and 6.7 on the game clock, Nelson took the inbounds pass and somehow swished an in-the-corner, off-balance 3-pointer with a hand in his face.

Prior to that, the Bruins had made only two of their first 11 3s.

"The play was for Malcolm [Lee] or Josh [Smith]," said Nelson. "But I told Jerime [Anderson] that if they weren’t open, I’d pop out and get a shot.’’

It has been fun to watch Reeves develop this year.  Critics said he was a selfish-malcontent-one-dimensional player only interested in scoring.  In this game he was again UCLA's best interior M2M defender (he still need work on his help defense) and had 17 rebounds.  BTW, St. John's players not named Dwight Hardy were 12-39 for the game shooting and UCLA out rebounded St. John's 40-28.  Reeves play was key in both.  

The rebounding was important in the clutch as well.  As is often the case this UCLA team wins, but does not win the easy way.  This time it was choking free throws.  Honeycutt, who did make his, teamed with Nelson to take advantage of a coach's nightmare, offensive rebounds of missed free throws:

UCLA, 16-7 and winners of 13-of-16, made up for its porous late-game foul shooting - the Bruins made just 3-of-10 free throws in the final four minutes - with crucial offensive rebounding. Nelson and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt teamed for three big boards following missed free throw attempts down the stretch that chewed up clock and let UCLA control the tempo.

Malcolm Lee had an off game.  He missed some FTs down the stretch and St. John's Hardy, his man, had 32 points.  Hardy, for the first time this year that I can remember, beat Lee going to the basket.   However, in watching the tape, many of Hardy's baskets did not come off Lee but in garbage, transition etc.  I reviewed Hardy's first five makes.  Two came in transition, one on a rebound were Lee was helping inside, and two came off Jones in switches.  I did like the Greg Anthony mentioned during the game Lee was one of the best defending wings in country. 

Lee's back court mate Lazeric Jones also had a bad game.  Actually in a warped way this was a positive for the team.  For prior to this game, UCLA had not won when Jones had played poorly.  In its last three losses Jones did not score.  Yesterday despite Jones not scoring UCLA won.  Also, Jones is a warrior.  He has a sprained wrist on one hand and still the healing but taped dislocated finger on the other. 

The last "starter" and I will call Smith a starter because he played 27 minutes even though he technically does not start played well.  The improvement in his game is easy to trace.  He now does not foul as much and DUNKS the ball.

UCLA freshman center Joshua Smith slammed the Bruins back from an early deficit to take a 29-26 halftime lead against St. John’s in former UCLA coach Steve Lavin’s return to Pauley Pavilion.

Smith had 12 points in the first half, eight of them coming on slam dunks. He also had two blocked shots.

Smith was very good.  But the other story of the game was the bench.  For the first time this season, I think Anderson outplayed Jones as a PG and played well. Many will say the first SUC game that happened but in that game SUC let Anderson shoot and he made them pay.  He did not do much as a PG.  Against St. John's Anderson's line was not great (0-2 FGs) but he played the steadying influence.  Anderson is good at slowing things down, which may be better for this team.  Anderson also is so much better at defense.  He was part of the effort that shut down all St. John's players not named Hardy.

But most, surprising, and encouraging may be Tyler Lamb's play.  He made the big three that gave us the lead and completed UCLA's comeback and hit another three to start the run.  These weren't just open shots they were momentum changers.  He also made the pass to Smith for arguably the best of Smith's dunks.  Lamb has always been good on defense and if he can help on offense, we will be much better off. 

The Bruins were flagged with two 10-second violations and looked simply lost.

Then Smith and fellow freshman Tyler Lamb found themselves.

Lamb hit two crucial 3-pointers in the first half to help UCLA weather the Storm and the Bruins lead 29-26 at the half, ultimately going up by as many as 10 early in the second half.

With Lamb and Anderson being subs that can help both ways, UCLA is really becoming a complete team.  A team on its way of accomplishing the goal to get to the Tourney

Along with it's victory over Brigham Young, UCLA now has two victories over highly-regarded teams that will look nice and sparkly on its resume come tournament selection time.

The key now is to not trip up. UCLA (16-7) can probably afford a loss or two in its final eight regular-season games, as long as they are against Arizona or Washington. If they are against anyone else, it's bubble time again.

So while UCLA's turnover-filled victory Saturday wasn't the prettiest to watch, it might end up being one of it's best looking on paper at the end of the season.

This is not a team that is going to run the table as someone said in the comments yesterday.  It is also not going to make any one forget the final four teams.  It is an improving good but certainly not great team.  And the improving part is nice to see, especially when playing CHP, since his teams did not improve.

Go Bruins!