- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- UCLA continued its habit of letting up against lesser opponents, but the Bruins also continued to win when they defeated Oregon State, 69-61, Saturday in a Pac-10 game at Pauley Pavilion.
It was the fifth consecutive victory for UCLA (18-7, 9-3) and the ninth in 10 games for the Bruins, who had an 18-point first-half lead cut to five by halftime and then took a 22-point lead with 6:56 to play and had a 16-point lead with less than a minute to go, only to watch Oregon State (9-15, 4-9) shrink it back down to single digits.
It was the 13th consecutive UCLA victory over Oregon State, the longest current win streak of one Pac-10 team over another, and by reaching nine conference victories, the Bruins surpassed last season's total. The Bruins have six conference games remaining and are knocking on the door of a top-25 ranking after receiving votes in the polls last week.
"We don’t try and pay attention to the rankings," guard Malcolm Lee said. "We just try to go out there and play hard because it’s not about who is supposed to win, it’s about who does at the end of the day."
Five observations from the game:
1UCLA called in the SWAT team
Tyler Honeycutt had eight blocked shots and the Bruins combined for 16 -- tying a school record set in 1990 against UC Irvine, falling three short of the Pac-10 record set by Stanford in 2007.
Honeycutt, whose eight blocks were the most by a Pac-10 player this season and the most by a UCLA player since Jelani McCoy had 11 in 1995, did most of his damage by coming from the weak side to help on defense.
"I just tried to keep protecting the rim," Honeycutt said. "They were running that one-up ball screen and they were getting around it so I had to come help side which is my job and I was able to protect it."
Joshua Smith added three blocks with Anthony Stover and Lazeric Jones each chipping in with two. Tyler Lamb also had one.
"I thought they would try to pump fake more because a lot of times we were just going up and trying to block their shot," Smith said. "But they kept going up and we just kept getting them."
2Joshua Smith continued his aggressive approach
Smith, tentative earlier this season, has become more and more aggressive over the last two weeks and Saturday was no exception, adding another dunk to the eight he had over the last four games.
The Bruins got off to a slow start offensively, settling for outside shots early against Oregon State's zone, but Smith began to call for the ball inside where he could play the role of zone buster. He finished with 15 points.
"It's good to see him getting more aggressive in there, especially against a zone," guard Jerime Anderson said. "His presence in there really opens things up and when we play inside out, that's when we play our best against the zone."
Smith said calling for the ball inside isn't just a means for him scoring more points, but rather an integral part of UCLA's offense against zones.
"We all know that when we get the ball we’re not trying to just go for ours," Smith said. "Coach, his big thing is getting the ball inside, but when we go inside, me and Reeves [Nelson] and [Brendan] Lane and [Anthony] Stover, we like passing just as much as scoring."
3Brendan Lane had a bounceback game under difficult circumstances
Reserve forward Brendan Lane missed Thursday's game against Oregon while attending his grandmother's funeral in Boston and flew back to Los Angeles late Friday night.
He didn't expect to play much Saturday, but Howland called his number early and Lane delivered. He finished with five points and six rebounds in only 10 minutes. It was the most he has played since getting 12 minutes at Arizona on Jan. 27, his most points since he had seven Jan. 20 against California and his most rebounds since he got seven against Washington on Dec. 31.
"When I got in there I just wanted to play hard and today just felt good," Lane said. "I was just trying to play aggressive and hard and get rebounds, just do whatever I could."
Lane was a key member of UCLA's rotation early in the season. He averaged 23.2 minutes over the first 15 games, but has production started to taper and his playing time decreased to only 10.1 per game over the last nine games.
He said the trip to Boston was a good opportunity to regroup.
"The funeral really puts everything in perspective," he said. "It really makes you appreciate what you have. Just being able to play this game, I knew coming out here I have to play hard every game. Don’t worry about other stuff. Definitely getting away mentally helped me be more focused and relaxed."
4The Bruins got defensive once again
UCLA held Oregon State to 32.9 percent shooting and has now held five consecutive opponents under 40 percent.
UCLA started especially strong, limiting the Beavers to only two field goals through the first eight minutes as they opened a 24-6 lead. The Beavers started the second half stymied, too, making only four of their first 16 shots of the second half.
"I thought our defense in the first half when we were up 24-6 was just outstanding defense," coach Ben Howland said.
The blocked shots certainly helped, but UCLA also forced two shot-clock violations and numerous bad shots. The team defense was a major reason UCLA was able to win despite allowing 24 offensive rebounds and committing 26 turnovers.
"It's not often you win a game like that," Honeycutt said.
5Oregon State's comebacks caused some flashbacks
The last time UCLA played Oregon State, the Beavers erased a 17-point deficit in the second half and took the lead before UCLA pulled away for a 62-57 victory.
So when the Beavers closed to within five after trailing 24-6, Bruins fans started to panic. UCLA had seven turnovers in the final seven minutes of the first half and led, 29-24 at halftime. After opening a 56-34 lead with 6:56 to play, the Bruins committed eight more turnovers against Oregon State's press as the Beavers made another run.
"It’s easy when you’re beating a team 24-8 in the first half to say ‘Oh wow, this is how the game is going to go’ and kind of slack off," Smith said. "We just have to keep working on being aggressive."
Oregon State, which uses a pressure defense almost the entire game, leads the nation is steals. Howland said he would have liked more time to prepare for the Beavers' press, noting the quick turnaround of playing a Saturday afternoon game after a Thursday night game.
"It really hurt us to not have a day of preparation for this team," Howland said. "That’s one thing I really have a hard time with. In every other league in the country that’s a BCS league, we’re the only league that has a constant Thursday-Saturday. Thursday night, Saturday afternoon."
The silver lining is that UCLA won the game and is now 17-0 this season when it has had a lead of 10 points or more at some point during the game. Still, UCLA has won only six games by more than 10 points.
"It would be nice if we could keep adding on to the lead because nobody would be scared at the end," Lee said. "We've just got to stay mentally tough and try holding them off and wish for the best. But when we start playing more athletic teams it’s going to be harder."