Double-Double-0-7: Nelson. Reeves Nelson returns from eye injuries with a License to Kill, and on Q, Pierces ‘Cats SPECTRE with 19 and 10 to help UCLA finish Onatopp 75-69, so that the Bruins can get a Quantum of Solace, and Eye Another Day
Never Say Never Again… even if Cal scares The Living Daylights out of you, because Tomorrow Never Dies.
After a Pac-10 regular season where anyone could beat anyone on any given day, UCLA was able to Live and Let Die, as they got revenge on Arizona — who swept the season series — with a deserving 75-69 victory in the Pac-10 Tournament. The Bruins outshot, outrebounded, outdefended, and outhustled the Wildcats, terminating the ‘Cats’ Nation-best 25-year streak of making the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, the win kept the Bruins alive, still with a slim chance to make the Big Dance themselves. All the Bruins have to do is beat Cal on Friday night, and then the winner of the Stanford/Washington game. The Bruins have already beaten all three of these teams, so even though they will be big Underdogs against Cal, the Dream is not dead. Two more wins — in Los Angeles — and the Bruins can move on from this season without that bitter taste of No March Madness in their mouths.
And the reason why the Bruins were able to handle the Wildcats this time was plain to see… even with a partially-torn retina. The Return of Reeves Nelson changed everything. With Nelson back, the Bruins were able to dominate the Paint, right from the start. Well, almost the start. On the first play of the game, the Bruins had a miscommunication on Defense, allowing the Cats to get an uncontested dunk. But Michael Roll (18 pts), who hit 50% of his shots and 3 of 6 from Downtown, hit his first 3-pointer, and the Bruins never trailed again.
With Roll outside and Nelson inside, the Bruins were able to keep the pressure on the U of A Defense. Roll and Nelson scored the vast majority of UCLA’s points, as the Bruins shot 64% in the 1st Half. On Defense, the Bruins utilized the ol’ Man-to-Man Defense, and it worked. Arizona must have been expecting the Zone, because they did not look prepared to break down the Bruins’ Man D with penetration (like everyone else did before Ben Howland was forced to switch, reluctantly, to a Zone). The Man-to-Man was designed to collapse on Wildcat Big Man (and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year) Derrick Williams, who was a total non-factor, and in the 1st Half committed 4 Turnovers and missed 2 lay-ups. Also, Kyle Fogg, who had scored 25 and 26 — each career highs — against the Bruins previously this year, just had a couple of baskets in the 1st half, which UCLA led by between 4 and 9, before taking a 37-33 lead into the locker room.
In the 2nd Half, Howland switched it up by going back to the Zone D, and Arizona couldn’t capitalize from the perimeter. Fogg ended up 4-12 and 1-5 from behind the arc, and Senior Star Nic Wise was 5-12 and 1-4, as the Wildcats shot only 34% in the 2nd Half. But Tyler Honeycutt (7 Rebounds) got in Foul Trouble, and fouled out (on a Freshman mistake reach-in) with 8:10 still left. A resulting Free Throw made it 58-55, with Arizona owning momentum, and UCLA forced to play without their best all-around player.
The other Bruins needed to rise up, and they did. With Nelson leading the way, with 19 Points on 8-of-9 shooting, 10 Boards, and 3 early Assists, there was no doubt that Nelson overcame any fear he may have had about re-injuring his eyes. Nikola Dragovic (18 pts) made some Free Throws to keep the Cats at bay, and then Malcolm Lee (9 pts, 4-4 from the Line) hit a HUGE 3-pointer to give the Bruins a 7-point lead with 5 and a 1/2 to play. Drago and Jerime Anderson missed some shots to keep Arizona alive, and JA also knocked a Rebound out of bounds with a minute left and the Bruins up by only 5, but Arizona Center Williams — not a 3-point shooter — missed his SECOND three-point attempt in crunch time, allowing the Bruins to hang on. Yeah, it was good Defense, but Arizona did have other options – Williams should NOT have taken either of those shots.
The victory pits the Bruins against #1-seeded California on Friday night at 6pm. Cal beat the Bruins easily, by 14, a few weeks ago, and on Thursday night, Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle went OFF, scoring 22 IN THE FIRST HALF, in their 16-point win over Oregon. He didn’t score in the 2nd Half, because he didn’t have to, as Randle Cruise Control was sufficient. Unfortunately for UCLA, Cal should be fairly well-rested for their Friday night match-up. None of their stars played more than 29 minutes, whereas 4 Bruins played more than that. Perhaps Randle was motivated by Husky fans decrying Randle’s “stealing” of the League MVP from their Quincy Pondexter, because Randle was unstoppable. In the 1st Half, he made all 8 of his shots, including 4 3-pointers, and one acrobatic reverse lay-up after a steal and drive from halfcourt. If Randle puts on another performance like this against UCLA, the Bruins will have no hope.
And if Honeycutt fouls out against Cal, the Bruins will be in huge trouble. Brendan Lane played 11 minutes against Arizona, and he had no Points, no Shots, no Rebounds, 1 Assist, 4 Fouls, and 4 Turnovers. Just when Lane seemed to be turning a corner, it seems like Nelson’s return made Lane regress. Lane committed a couple of Offensive Fouls while trying to set screens, which is Howland 101. And even though Senior James Keefe got called for this violation several times, Lane will lose his minutes if he keeps getting called for it. That puts the Bruins in jeopardy of being a 6-person team, with Anderson being the only reserve getting substantial playing time. It’s not easy to succeed with that little depth, especially in back-to-back-to-back games, with your back against the wall.
For Friday, if the Bruins want to keep their flame burning, they’ll have to put out Randle like a candle. Because this year, it’s “You Only Live ONCE.”