Win One For The Wizard:  UCLA scales the Pyramid of Success, reaching Competitive Greatness with a victory over #16 BYU in the Wooden Classic, a game they had dedicated to the Legendary Coach

Even from beyond the grave, John Wooden is still helping the Bruins succeed.  In a contest named after the unparalleled Wooden — a game that they wanted to win in order to honor him — the Bruins played their best ball of the year, to get a quality W over the 16th-ranked Cougars, 86-79.  And all it took was a little other-worldly motivation.

The extra pressure of trying to pay tribute to the greatest Coach of All Time in any Sport was a little burdensome at first, as the Bruins quickly fell behind 16-6.  But after a Ben Howland Time Out, UCLA went on an 18-2 run, and never relinquished control after that.

Behind a career-high 23 points from a rejuvenated Reeves Nelson, UCLA led the rest of the way.  They were up by 6 at Halftime, and built the lead to 13 in the second half.  The Cougars didn’t quit, going on an 11-0 spurt of their own to cut the lead to 2 halfway through the second half, but the Bruins showed poise and confidence — two staples from Wooden’s Pyramid of Success — which enabled them to re-extend the margin back up to double-digits.

Nelson’s return to form highlighted a true TEAM effort by UCLA.  The front line took control of the Offensive end, with Tyler Honeycutt contributing 17 points, and Joshua Smith adding 15.  Guard Malcolm Lee couldn’t find the range, going 3-11 and 0-4 from behind the arc, BUT, he compensated for his cold shooting with SEVEN assists (to only 1 turnover).  And on the Defensive end, Lee was a STUD.  He and the other Guards, with help form Honeycutt and Smith, held All-American Jimmer Fredette to only 8 points in the second half, including a goose egg from long-distance.  Fredette was also harassed into a game-high SEVEN turnovers, including a game-clinching Steal by Joshua Smith with 50 seconds left.

The Bruins were much more focused than ever before, which showed in their 10-to-19 edge in Turnovers.  They also took control of the Paint in the second half, despite Smith, Honeycutt, and Lazeric Jones incurring 4 early fouls each.  It was all about ATTITUDE, desire, and team chemistry.  There were several beautifully-unselfish extra passes inside which led to easy buckets, and there was more joyful comraderie than Bruin fans have seen in two years.  Suddenly, Nelson wasn’t yelling at his teammates — he was high-fiving them.

Between the new-found cohesiveness, Tyler Lamb’s growing comfort-level, and Jerime Anderson’s epic turnaround in confidence and performance, the Bruins look like they may be rounding into shape for a run at the Pac-10 Title — Especially since highly-regarded Arizona got throttled by this same BYU team. 

Hopefully, the Bruins will continue to put forth effort as if the Wizard of Westwood is personally watching every game.