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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: Chris Smith to the Rescue?

I defy anyone to figure out Murry Bartow’s player rotations.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at UCLA
Chris Smith had the start, highlight and game winner last night, which I don’t think anyone could have predicted.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

I have watched UCLA Bruins basketball for more years than I want to count and have seen numerous coaches. After a while you figure out each coach’s styles and substitution patterns. Sure, surprises happen, but there are trends. I defy anyone to figure out interim coach Murry Bartow. Let’s start with what turned out to be the game-winning shot. It was shot by Chris Smith. After the game, Bartow discussed the play:

That was a huge play. You want a guy that can go in and make a big play like that. Chris is a slasher. That’s kind of who he is. He made one 3 tonight, but he’s really much more of a driver, slasher, big-time athlete. That was obviously a huge play.

Now, if you draw up a last shot, Chris Smith is not the likely person. Shoot, he is not likely to be in the game. Smith last started on January 9. Smith in his last three games was 3 of 12. In his last ten games, he has played under ten minutes four times and under 20 seven times. Yet, Smith had the ball in his hand for the entire possession as he subbed in for Jaylen Hands. In other words, with the game of the line the Pac-12’s leader in assists was on the bench after being subbed out for a guy who has more turnovers than assists for the season and has been playing power forward for UCLA.

So, yeah, of course, Smith makes the game-wining basket. Meanwhile, Ben Bolch of the LA Times writes:

Chris Smith put the finishing touches on his first start than more than a month, banking in a spinning layup with 21 seconds left to put UCLA ahead by a point. Everybody in blue and white could finally let out a long sigh of relief after the lead held up and the Bruins held on for a 68-67 victory over the Beavers. . . .

Bartow made two changes in his starting lineup, inserting David Singleton and Smith in place of Prince Ali and Jalen Hill. Ali was sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot that Bartow said could keep him out of the Bruins’ game against Oregon on Saturday. Smith replaced Hill, Bartow said, because it gave his team “a more skilled guy at [power forward]. . . .

Smith put the second-biggest charge of the night into the crowd early in the second half when he drove for a ferocious one-handed dunk over Oregon State’s Kylor Kelley to put the Bruins ahead by 12 points.

For anyone who was questioning those of us who say Chris Smith has NBA potential, there was this other highlight that Bolch mentioned:

After the game, Smith described the dunk:

I thought I was going to get picked, and I saw Kylor (Kelley) down there under the rim, the second-leading blocker in the nation. And I couldn’t lay the ball up, so I figured I had to try to dunk it, and it went in, and I don’t know what happened after that.

While this is a news roundup, I do have to point out a key quote from the recap that Dimitri wrote here on Bruins Nation last night:

Hey, Let’s Talk About Those Rotations Real Quick - Can I just say how baffled I was by the bench usage in this game? Jules Bernard got a solid 19 minutes, which is good, but Alex Olesinski played more minutes than Cody Riley and Jalen Hill combined. And while Brown’s 37 minutes was impressive, there were moments where Brown seemed to be struggling and really looked like he could use a few minutes on the bench just to regroup.

Alex’s minutes were interesting when you consider that he played more minutes last night than his last four games combined and he was the one inbounding the ball with the game on the line.

I’ve got two more quick points. If you are an Oregon State fan, you might want to call foul or rather lack thereof. Oregon State Coach Wayne Tinkle discussed the very unbalanced number of free throws by each team:

We outscored them 40-26 in the paint, yet it’s a 28-3 advantage at the free throw line. Maybe it’s our fault not going to the rim enough tonight. . . . It was a tough loss, but you know, I really have to ask about the free throw discrepancy,

But, really, the story was the UCLA did not collapse and actually held on to win. Today’s last words come from LA Daily News beat writer Thuc Nhi Ngyuen who writes:

They watched another double-digit lead evaporate Thursday against Oregon State, nervously sweating out a final Oregon State possession as UCLA clung to a one-point lead in the final seconds. Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle got an open 3-pointer.

The ball hung in the air, but it missed everything with 1.8 seconds left.

The crowd exhaled with a loud roar. . . .

It was the first time during conference play that UCLA was outscored in the second half and held on for a win.

Go Bruins!