Bruins Get Better in Corvallis

UCLA avoided the trap game and beat a pretty poor Oregon State team Saturday, 62-52, coming away with a split on the road in Oregon. UCLA's zone, again, was very effective, while the Bruins took another step toward being a team you might not want to play...

Coming off a tough overtime loss in Eugene to Oregon the question was whether the Bruins could avoid the dreaded trap game loss in Corvallis to Oregon State.

They did, pulling away to win, 62-52.

The first half was about as ugly as it gets. UCLA had 12 turnovers and only 16 shot attempts as the OSU 1-3-1 zone bothered the Bruins. With Seth Tarver at the top of the 1-3-1 and freshman Jared Cunningham at the bottom, OSU did a terrific job of making UCLA work hard while the Bruins weren't tough enough with the ball. It was the same problem UCLA had with Michigan's 1-3-1 last year in a loss. The good news was when UCLA did manage to not turn it over they were getting good shots and knocking them down, and they managed to end the half on an 8-0 run to go in up 24-18. With Jerime Anderson playing again, UCLA was now eight deep and, in fact, due to Nikola Dragovic's foul trouble, they even went nine deep with Brendan Lane playing the last two minutes of the first half. OSU was 8-for-22 shooting in the first half and UCLA out-rebounded them 14-8; it's tough to get a lot of rebounds when UCLA put up so few shots and made a good percentage of them.

In the 2nd half, it figured if UCLA could take care of the ball they would win. But they promptly turned it over three of the first four possessions and OSU quickly tied the game up with an 8-2 run. Joe Burton, the OSU freshman big, did a nice job of getting the ball at the high post and then finding cutters inside. UCLA finally seemed to figure that out, tightened up the zone, and promptly went on a 16-5 run that included a spectacular set play lob from Mike Roll to Tyler Honeycutt for a big dunk. One of the keys to the run was OSU's Jared Cunningham picking up his 3rd foul and having to sit; OSU's zone is completely different without him. UCLA finally started protecting the ball and just carved up the OSU zone, at one point hitting 12 of 17 shots in the 2nd half and building a double-digit lead.

OSU tried to come back and had the lead down to 10 with the ball when Jerime Anderson made a great steal and passed ahead to Malcolm Lee, who threw down a wicked dunk (that could have been a technical for swinging on the rim). UCLA eventually led by as much as 15 before the combination of Pac-10 refs and Calvin Haynes combined to get OSU back in the game. With UCLA up 15, first there was a ticky tack foul on Anderson, giving Cunningham three free throws. He made two and missed the 3rd, then Reeves Nelson got the rebound and started to dribble out when he was clearly fouled and lost the ball, but no foul was called and OSU ended up getting the ball and drawing a shooting foul. They made the first, missed the 2nd and the ball wound up finding Haynes, who nailed a three-pointer, giving OSU a six-point possession and cutting the Bruin lead to 9. Shortly after that, there was a ridiculous foul call where Dragovic stood straight, hands up, and Haynes jumped into him and they called it on Dragovic, giving Haynes three free throws. Earlier in the half there was an even worse call where Lathen Wallace was given a three that clearly came after the foul was called.

The game ended with a steal and ferocious dunk by Nelson. Ordinarily you'd say the classy thing to do was run out the clock but you can't fault Nelson the way the refs called the last few minutes, plus with the extremely loud OSU fans it appeared Nelson decided to take out his aggression on the rim with a powerful two-hand dunk.

There were probably more dunks in this game for the Bruins than in the last several combined as Nelson had at least four himself. One problem with OSU's 1-3-1 is if they don't get the turnover they are awfully vulnerable inside and UCLA exploited that all game.

Nelson led the Bruins with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Dragovic had a very up and down game, with 13 points but only 1 rebound and 6 turnovers. Mike Roll had another solid game, 11 points and 5 assists. Lee had a better game this time out with 9 points, 2 assists and played very good defense at the top of the zone, helping to hound Haynes into a 5-for-20 shooting night.

With Anderson back it will be interesting to see how Howland handles the point guard spot. Against OSU, most of the game Roll and Lee were bringing it up against the pressure. Even when Anderson was in the game he rarely brought it up, although he did play some point guard in the half court. Anderson was actually quite effective in limited minutes with 3 points and 3 assists, one of them a dazzling no-look to Nelson for a big dunk that brought the UCLA bench to its feet. Tyler Honeycutt struggled a bit, finishing with 7 points, 3 boards (even though it seemed like more), 3 assists and 3 turnovers, but he continues to show exceptional all-around talent. As the TV play-by-play said at one point, "Nelson and Honeycutt are going to be studs."

The Bruins shot 66% for the game from the field, and held OSU to 37%. They also won the rebounding battle, 25 to 16. OSU is not a great team but they were coming off a big win over USC and the Bruins did well to avoid overlooking them. Howland will clearly not be happy with the 20 turnovers, but there were plenty of positives from this game. The zone once again held an opponent down; OSU is not a great shooting team but the UCLA zone limited OSU to 5-for-23 shooting from three-point range. OSU also went only 9-for-17 from the free-throw line, including 0-6 to start the game. Who knew there was a Pac 10 team that shot free throws worse than UCLA?

As disappointing as it was to lose to Oregon, the Ducks did turn right around and beat USC Saturday, so maybe they're better than previously thought. For UCLA, while they're not 6-3 as many had hoped as a result of the Oregon road trip, the Bruins finished the first half of conference play 5-4, and if Arizona manages to knock off Cal Sunday UCLA would be only one game out of first place. Given how poorly the season started, the three wins in the last four games, the zone getting better and Honeycutt and Nelson improving by leaps and bounds, it's certainly possible UCLA can finish the season strong. If Lee and Anderson can get going, UCLA might just be a team nobody wants to play in the conference tournament.

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