Rebuilding around the Skyscraper — Big Josh Smith towers over the rest with 26 points in UCLA’s sketchy 80-72 Exhibition victory, but the erections around him are still architecture in progress
You wouldn’t think that Anthony Stover and Jerime Anderson would be crucial to the Bruins’ success this season, but without that duo of back-ups, UCLA struggled to put away Cal State San Bernardino in their Exhibition on Sunday afternoon in Ontario. Without a true back-up Center and Point Guard, the Bruins were exposed as something less than National Championship contenders, in their tough 80-72 win over the Coyotes.
Center Josh Smith did not start, in order to stay out of foul trouble, but when he came in, he was as dominant as expected. Smith scored 26 Points and grabbed 6 Offensive Rebounds, as he ruled the paint over the vertically-challenged Coyotes. CSUSB just hopped on Pop when the ball went inside, allowing Smith to get to the Free Throw line 18 times. He converted 14 of those chances, and that was the difference in the game.
The Wear twins both started, and showed some flashes of their potential, but didn’t look like World-beaters. They were not strong enough on Defense to stop their opponents down low, and they did not shoot the lights out, each going 3-for-8 from the field. They will contribute greatly this year, but maybe won’t be needed quite as much once Stover and Anderson return (from injury and suspension respectively) to gobble up some minutes. Sure, Anderson is a Guard, but that could shift some others to the 3, which would cut into David Wear’s playing time.
Stover’s Defense — especially his shot-blocking — was missed, as was Anderson’s ability to spell Lazeric Jones at the Point. Tyler Lamb filled in as the back-up Point Guard, and he did not look very comfortable there. Lamb made some good entry passes, but fouls in the inside limited Lamb’s total Assists to ONE. He had only 1 Turnover, but did not handle the ball well, or run the Offense efficiently. And his shot, which was supposed to be improved, seemed to suffer from his mindset of trying to play out of position, going only 1-for-6 from the floor. The hard work that he put in over the Summer was not evident on this day.
However, the hard work put in by Reeves Nelson DID pay off. Nelson’s outside shot was much more fundamentally sound. He hit two Three’s and swished a beautiful baseline jumper, on his way to 16 Points. Nelson also led the team with 10 Boards (5 Offensive, 5 Defensive).
Brendan Lane did not play — I’m not sure why. It seems that he could compete with the Wears for minutes, if he has progressed at all since last year. Newcomers Norman Powell and De’End Parker played 14 and 16 minutes, and sank a total of 1 bucket between them — further proving that Anderson will be necessary for this team to succeed. Even against weak CSUSB, the new wing players failed to make a splash during their debuts. Maybe they were feeling some jitters, and maybe they were deferring to the veterans, and to the Bruins’ perceived advantage underneath, but still, you would expect more than 4 Points in their combined 30 minutes.
The Bruins led by about 6-8 points for most of the game, and were up 39-31 at the break. But about 2/3rds of the way into the 2nd half, the Coyotes went on a wily 12-0 run, and actually took a 2-point lead. But the Bruins responded, going on a 9-0 run of their own to take command. The Bruins used 80% shooting at the Charity Stripe to lock down the victory. It made up for their under-40% Field Goal shooting. That low percent was inclusive of shooting over 60% from 3-point land, so it was interior shooting that was lacking. The Bruins blew a lot of easy shots inside, and despite having a monster game, Smith still missed too many bunnies. There were several shots where he should have still made the shot despite getting fouled. He had the strength advantage, but, just like the start of last year, still wasn’t going up with authority. Smith still needs to UP his aggressivity, but maybe that will come as the season develops, like it did last season.
The Bruins start their real games with a match-up against Loyola at the Sports Arena on Friday night. Anderson and Stover will still be missing, so Smith and some of his teammates will have to step it up unless the Bruins want to start the season 0-1. And chances are that they WILL — The Bruin team showed character in responding to the Coyote run, and defintely kicked it up a notch when the game was in jeopardy. That kind of heart should come in handy as the team finds its identity and starts to gel.
Speaking of gellin’, below are 30 more photos of the UCLA Spirit Squad, from Saturday at the Rose Bowl. CLICK ON THE PHOTOS TO ENLARGE THEM.