There is nothing like a 1-8 team whose only win this year is against a Division III school to get a struggling player started back on the right track.
UCLA’s center Joshua Smith, whose play and lack of conditioning due to being overweight was a source of some fairly intense criticism so far this season, took advantage of UC Davis’ shortcomings to record his first double-double, scoring a team-high 18 points and grabbing ten rebounds, as the Bruins smashed the Aggies, 82-39.
It was UCLA’s third straight victory and evened their record at 5-5.
The 43-point margin was the Bruins’ biggest since they beat Wyoming by 51 points on December 23, 2008.
Does anyone realize that these Bruins have not lost since Reeves Nelson was dismissed from the team? “Our team has become more cohesive, obviously,” coach Ben Howland said after the game, with Smith adding, “With the guys we have, the chemistry is getting really good.”
I suppose there is much to say about addition by subtraction and teams getting better by removing someone who’s a cancer.
Too bad only 5,132 saw this whipping at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday, because although UC Davis’ talent didn’t match up with UCLA’s, it was the first time that Ben Howland’s team played a complete game.
Smith showed quite a bit of improvement against the Aggies, playing a season-high 21 minutes and committing only two fouls while making seven of ten shots; I’m sure it felt good to not be in foul trouble for once.
The 6′ 10″ sophomore said he felt “great” and that he could have played more, which is a sign that his conditioning is starting to get better.
David Wear added 15 points, while point guard Lazeric Jones continued his positive progress with 12 points and seven assists as the Bruins made it an easy afternoon, scoring the first ten points of the game, leading by 36-5 and as much as 35 at one point in the first half and 43-15 at halftime, and delivering a Mike Tyson-like knockout by going on a 20-0 run in the second half after Davis tried to make a game of it by outscoring UCLA 13-11 after the break.
The only disappointment for the Bruins, besides making only 57.7% of their free throws, was Tyler Trapani, the great-grandson of John Wooden who only plays at the end of blowout victories, missing his only shot attempt after entering the game in the final minute.
The defense for UCLA was outstanding as well as UC Davis – out of the Big West Conference – shot only 23.6% for the game and no Aggie scored in double figures; Tyler Les led Davis with nine.
It was the second time this season that the Bruins didn’t allow an opposing player to score ten points, the first time being against Pepperdine.
Meanwhile, UCLA shot 52.5% for the game and dominated the Aggies on the boards, out-rebounding them 50-34.
If the Bruins played UC Davis and teams like them every game, the Final Four and a 12th national championship would be a cinch.
Even though that will unfortunately not be the case, this – if nothing else – does serve as a confidence booster, and should serve as a springboard to future success, particularly when Pac-12 conference play begins at the end of next week.
Here are the highlights of UCLA’s crushing of their NorCal UC siblings:
NEXT UP: UC Irvine Anteaters, Los Angeles Sports Arena, Tuesday, December 20, 7:30 p.m.
Another Big West Conference school that’s a fellow UC and off to a bad start – 2-8, with one of those two wins coming against NAIA Concordia – will be facing the Bruins. They are lead by Daman Starring and his 12.2 points a game, but outside of that, this should be a game much like Ben Howland’s team had against UC Davis.
Provided that they not take them lightly; that’s the only key to this contest.