Five observations: UCLA 80, CSUSB 72

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
7:10
PM PT
ONTARIO -- UCLA got a little bit of a scare from Division II Cal State San Bernardino in an exhibition game Sunday at Citizen's Business Bank Arena, but the Bruins took control at the end and held on for am 80-72 victory.

Center Joshua Smith had 26 points and seven rebounds and forward Reeves Nelson added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins, who used their significant size advantage to dominate the paint.

Still, the Coyotes took a 60-58 lead with 7:33 to play by frustrating UCLA with a zone defense, but the Bruins finally figured it out and clamped down defensively. They forced eight San Bernardino turnovers in the final 7:33.

"It was a tough win," said guard Tyler Lamb, an Ontario native who gave out 17 tickets to family and friends. "I think it was tougher than it should have been, but first game, get the rust out, get the jitters out. I think we got sped up at times, but that happens in games."

The Bruins, ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press preseason top 25 and No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, open the regular season Friday against Loyola Marymount at the Sports Arena. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Five observations from the exhibition:

1 Joshua Smith was the focal point of the offense
Smith, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center, took a bit of a backseat last season, and did not start the game as coach Ben Howland continued the strategy he used last season in bringing Smith off the bench to avoid early foul trouble, but was clearly is the go-to guy when he got in.

His 12 shot attempts and 18 free throws were the most of anyone on the team.

UCLA has plenty of size with Smith, Nelson, Travis Wear and David Wear and Howland made it clear that he intends to play inside out this season and that starts with Smith, who is listed at 305 pounds and is a load for any defender.

"We have to get it in to Josh and Reeves and Travis and Dave," Howland said. "We’ve got to take advantage of the obvious strength we have inside by getting it in whether it’s man or zone."

Smith still showed a tendency to be a little soft around the basket, however, missing or getting fouled on a couple of short-range shots that could have been dunks.

"I kind of got mad at myself looking at my field goals because a lot of them are just tip-ins," said Smith, who was six for 12 from the field. "Just a little more and I could have gotten 'and ones' instead of two free throws."

2UCLA's free-throw shooting was spot-on

The Bruins made 33 of 41 (80.5%) of their free throws, which is a crucial stat if the Bruins are going to keep going inside because big men inside tend to draw fouls.

Smith made 14 of 18 free throws, a vast improvement over the 61.3 percent he shot last season and he credited a change in technique he discovered by talking to his high school coach and Howland over the summer.

"A lot of times with my free throws, I fall back before the balls go in and that’s just something I was trying to work on," Smith said. "So I got to the line 18 times and I was just trying to finish."

The high percentage of made free throws was a welcome relief to Howland, who has had several teams in the past that were not that great from the line. Last year's team shot 67 percent.

"In the two scrimmages combined [Joshua] is shooting a high percentage," Howland said. "Which is great because he’s going to get fouled. Reeves is going to get fouled. Think about how many times we’ve sat here and talked about our free-throw shooting at the beginning of the year as a team. This is a team that can shoot free throws and shoot them well."

3The Wear twins were nervous and rusty

Howland has high hopes for Travis and Davis Wear, transfers from North Carolina who had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, but they played a little tight in their first game action since March 2010.

Both started in the game, and they combined to make six of 16 shots from the field. In true twin fashion, they both made three of eight shots. David finished with nine points and six rebounds and Travis had 10 points and two rebounds.

"Definitely some nerves and some anxiety," Travis Wear said. "When I got out there it felt like I was going 1,000 miles an hour. I just wanted to play really well in front of everyone. First game in uniform and in front of a crowd in a year and a half. I just needed to slow down and take it easy and not force it."

Both had their moments, however. David made a three-point shot, showing that even at 6-10 he has outside range, and also finished an alley-oop dunk on a fast break. Travis showed some good post moves and had two dunks.

"Out there pressing a little bit," Travis said. " I wanted to play so well in front of everyone. I got my feet wet and I'll go out there next time and just stay calm and let the game come to me."

4Reeves Nelson brought his outside game

Nelson's strength is always going to be in the paint and around the basket, but the 6-8 power forward added an outside dimension over the offseason and put it on display Sunday by making two three-point shots and another from about 15 feet.

Most of Nelson's baskets came from inside of 10 feet last season as he led the team in scoring with 13.9 points a game, but as the offensive focus shifts toward Smith, Nelson felt the need to become more versatile.

"I have been working on it a lot," Nelson said. "I’m shooting like 55 percent in practice and I’m just going to continue to do it in the games."

Nelson made only four of 21 three-point attempts last season and didn't have any in conference play. The year before, he didn't attempt one. This year, however, the outside shot could prove a valuable part of his arsenal.

"When it’s open, I’m definitely going to shoot it, but if not we know our strength is inside and going to the basket," Nelson said. "At the same time, I know I’ve been known as a driver and a penetrator and an inside player for most of my career so I know that I’m going to keep people honest."

5The Bruins were not at the top of their game on defense

Cal State San Bernardino shot 44.4 percent from the field, including 52 percent in the second half. UCLA got caught out of position several times when switching off screens, were late in their help rotations and the Coyotes managed to beat Bruins defenders off the dribble for open looks.

"We’ve got to be a better defensive team," Howland said. "We’re getting driven too much, our help is not there. Tomorrow we’ll get together and watch the entire game as a team and study it because we’re not going to beat a lot of people on our schedule until we improve defensively."

Lamb, who led the team with two steals and played the best defense of anyone on the team, said the problems that cropped up Sunday were merely the result of an early-season game. With so many new faces in the lineup, everyone is still acclimating to one other's tendencies.

"All these things can be fixed at practice," Lamb said. "People were rusty. I think we’ll fix that."

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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