It looked like UCLA was getting a bit of arachniphobia Friday night.
The Richmond Spiders, a solid mid-major team that’s a perennial NCAA tournament participant, started off their games with the Bruins with an early 14-5 lead, pounding Ben Howland’s man-to-man defense on the way to an eventual 21-12 advantage in the first half before Howland switched to a defense that he loathes, a 2-3 zone.
That woke the Bruins up as they went on a 19-3 run after that nine-point deficit, shot 62% from the floor in the second half after shooting just 31% in the first, and put Richmond away with a 71-63 victory before 4,194 at the Sports Arena.
Howland completely credited switching the defense for his team’s turnaround, saying, “If we hadn’t gone to the zone, we wouldn’t have won the game,” as after hitting six of their first ten shots, Richmond proceeded to make only two of their next 16.
The win was UCLA’s fifth straight (and fifth in a row since booting Reeves Nelson off the team), leaving them with a respectable 7-5 record going into the start of Pac-12 Conference play next week.
Along with the second half surge, the Bruins made like a can of Raid, killing the Spiders in the paint in outscoring them 38-10.
For the second straight contest, five UCLA players scored in double figures, led by point guard Lazeric Jones’ 16; his resurgence over these last five games, which has seen him averaging 16 points a night, has been a big factor in the Bruins’ improvement.
The Wear twins, David and Travis, were likewise big factors in the win, especially in the second half as Travis, after getting shut out in the game’s first 20 minutes, scored 14 second half points and grabbed four rebounds off the bench while David got 12 points and seven boards.
Joshua Smith wasn’t so hot in the first half, going back to old habits and making three of nine shots total, but asserted himself in the second 20 minutes to end up with 11 points – nine in the second half - and five much-needed rebounds.
It was Jerime Anderson, however, who provided the biggest spark as 11 of his 13 points came in that second period after the game was tied at 24 at halftime. He also had seven boards and six assists.
UCLA should be given much credit and accolades for coming together as a team after that 2-5 start, and they should especially be given props for beating a team that was a bigger challenge than the likes of UC Davis and UC Irvine. “…each win is really helping our confidence,” Anderson said after the game.
As well it should, because now the hard part begins: Pac-12 play, beginning on the road next Thursday and Saturday against two of the tougher teams in the conference, Stanford and California.
John Wooden often said, “Be at your best when your best is needed.”
This basketball team was at their best these last five games, but now they need to take it up to yet another level.
Will they be able to do that and come away with at least one win in the Bay Area if not a sweep? We’ll certainly find out.
Here are the highlights of the Bruins’ win: