UCLA Steps Up At Wooden Classic; St. Mary's Defeats Long Beach State

December 19, 2010

Photo: Tri Le
Anaheim, Calif. - The UCLA Bruins defeated the 16th-ranked BYU Cougars at the John R. Wooden Classic on Saturday, 86-79.  The win improved the Bruins record to 6-4 on the season.  The Cougars suffered their first loss of the season to drop to 10-1.

UCLA head coach Ben Howland asserted that the game had special meaning for the Bruins because they are playing this season in honor of their late legendary coach John Wooden, who passed away earlier this year.

Said Howland, "We played for Coach today.  We wanted him to be proud of this team and we know he is." Each Bruin wears a patch of Wooden's famed "Pyramid of Success" on their uniforms.

The Bruins certainly played with a fire and tenacity that has been more often missing thus far this season in order to overcome BYU and their potential All-American senior Jimmer Fredette.  Fredette scored 25 points and started the game at a blistering pace, seemingly hitting every jump shot he took.

Nonetheless the defense of the athletic, if less-skilled, Bruin guards Lazeric Jones, Malcolm Lee, and Jerime Anderson, hounded the Cougars 6-2 guard all afternoon and forced him into an uncharacteristically high 7 turnovers.  The Cougars had 19 turnovers over all to the Bruins 10.

Photo: Tri Le

While the Bruins are typically led by forward Tyler Honeycutt, he had a relatively quiet 17 points on this afternoon.  The real matchup problems for the Cougars came from the inside play of UCLA big men Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith.

Nelson was the Bruins' leading scorer with 23 points on 8 for 15 shooting and was very active on the offensive end.  His thunderous dunk late in the game was the final turning point in this tight contest and carried the Bruins to victory down the stretch. 

Photo: Tri Le

For his part, freshman Joshua Smith (6-10, 305) was dominant, when he was in the game.  The young wide-body was plagued by foul trouble throughout the afternoon, getting called for ticky-tack fouls that limited his playing time.   Smith finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds in just 20 minutes of action.  Most intriguing was Smith's surprising touch at the foul line, where he went 7 for 9.

The youthful Bruins have shown signs of their ability this season, most recently in losing a nailbiter at Kansas, 77-76 on December 2nd.  But the Bruins followed that game with an embarrassing 66-57 loss to Montana at home, leading many to wonder what kind of team might come out to challenge the unbeaten Cougars.
Jimmer Fredette / Photo: Tri Le

The Cougars simply appeared the more polished team when they shot out to a 16-6 lead early in the first half, with Fredette scoring 8 quick points.

Fortunately for the Bruins, they overcame the slow start  to change the pace of the game in the first half.  With a more up-tempo style and an active defense, UCLA went on an impressive 23-5 run to take a 29-21 lead.  They eventually went into halftime with a 43-37 lead, despite Fredette's 19 first-half points.

The lead expanded to 61-48 for the Bruins in the second half, despite the efforts of 6-9 sophomore Brandon Davies, who finished with 19 points on 7 for 9 shooting.  But the Cougars went on an 11-0 run to cut the lead to 2 points, 61-59, inducing a timeout by UCLA coach Ben Howland.

In fact, the key to the game may have been UCLA coach Ben Howland's gutsy decision to keep playing both Smith and Honeycutt, despite the fact each had four fouls early in the second half.

Critically, the Bruins also grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and BYU coach Dave Rose acknowledged that the previously unbeaten Cougars had not faced that kind of inside strength this season.  "We really didn't have an answer for their size. That's as physical as we've been guarded with size all season."

Fredette, who struggled mightily in the second half, tried to lead a comeback late in the game but his basket with 1:29 left, which cut the lead to 5, was as close as BYU would get.


Game 1: St. Mary's v Long Beach State

Photo: Tri Le

The early game saw St. Mary's defeat Long Beach State 82-74.  The Gaels (9-2) were led by a surprising 28 points off the bench from their 6-9 sophomore forward from Australia, Mitchell Young, whose previous scoring high was 14 points.  T.J. Robinson led Long Beach State (5-7) with 19 points but the 49ers failed to execute in the final minutes as the Gaels pulled away in a see-saw contest. 

Photo: Tri Le

I asked Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson if he thought the 49ers incredibly difficult preseason schedule might help them in preparing for the Big West conference regular season.  However, Monson, still upset from his team's poor play down the stretch, was not ready to search for positives.

Monson acknowledged his team had played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country and hoped it toughened his team up, but noted that they had played a similarly tough preseason last year and it didn't help.



While both games were highly competitive and had a number of exciting moments, the largest ovation of the night was reserved for the late coach John Wooden himself.

With less than 2 minutes to play in the UCLA-BYU game, the video monitors finished a documentary honoring Wooden that had been playing intermittently throughout the afternoon.  At the conclusion, the crowd rose up in unison and applauded for about a minute in tribute to unarguably one of the greatest coaches in the history of American sports.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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