ANAHEIM--UCLA finally has a victory it can brag about.
The Bruins defeated Arizona, 65-58, in the Wooden Classic Thursday night at the Honda Center, posting their first Pac-12 win and also their first win against a major conference opponent.
Despite playing without center Joshua Smith, who sat out with a concussion, the Bruins (8-7, 1-2) controlled the paint against the smaller Wildcats (10-5, 1-1) and got an all-important victory after getting swept by Stanford and Cal in their Pac-12 openers last week.
"It’s a big win," guard Lazeric Jones said. "It’s our first Pac-12 win. I said before that you have to win games to learn how to win and hopefully we can learn from this and continue to get wins."
Five observations from the game:
1The Wear twins turned into the wonder twins
Travis and David Wear, who have played inconsistently and passively most of this season, were completely different players Thursday when they combined for 34 points, 10 rebounds. They were 13 of 16 from the floor and eight of eight from the free throw line while also playing passable defense against Arizona's post players Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill.
"I was especially pleased with both the Wears," coach Ben Howland said. "I thought they made a step forward this week in practice and it carried over to the game which you like to see as a coach. Being more aggressive. Getting to the line more."
Travis Wear had a career-high 20 points with five rebounds and three blocked shots. He also made six of six free throws. David Wear made six of seven shots, mostly from close range, and finished with 14 points.
"A big emphasis was making sure everything was going toward the basket," David Wear said. "No fadeaways, no shying away from contact. We really emphasized trying to get to the basket. We got in foul trouble and couldn’t be as aggressive as we would have liked to be but we set the tone early that we were going to play hard and hold it down down low."
2Lazeric Jones played more shooting guard than point guard
Jones has been the team's point guard all season, but played off guard for most of his 36 minutes Thursday in an effort to take more advantage of his scoring punch. He's the team's leading scorer at 13.6 points per game and had 13 points again Thursday.
Jerime Anderson ran the point most of the night and though he had only three assists, he did a nice job of orchestrating in the half court.
"I’ve never played off the ball in my life," Jones said. "I’m just trying to get used to it. If it’s going to help us get wins, I’ll do whatever coach tells me to. It helped us get a win tonight so I guess we’ll probably stick with it a little bit."
3Joshua Smith's concussion may have been a blessing in disguise
You never want to lose a 6-10 center, but when Smith banged his head against Travis Wear's leg in practice Wednesday, it forced him out of the lineup against Arizona and gave the Bruins a better matchup with the Wildcats.
Smith is dominant down low, but can be a defensive liability against smaller, quicker teams because he gets beat off the dribble and picks up a lot of fouls because of his lack of mobility. Against Arizona, which starts 6-6 Solomon Hill and 6-7 Jesse Perry at the post positions, Smith might have had trouble.
"It probably helped us defensively against Arizona because Josh would have a hard matchup whether he’s guarding Perry or Hill," Howland said. "Both Hill and Perry can step out and shoot and that would have been a hard matchup."
4Team defense was greatly improved
The Bruins got back to their defensive ways Thursday night, holding Arizona to 36.2 percent from the field--a far cry from the 65.4 percent they gave up in their last game at California.
The surprising part was that the Bruins did so using mostly a man-to-man defense, which has been a weakness for the team for the most part this season.
"That was the reason we won," Howland said. "We played good team defense and man was better for us today looking at the overall possessions. We were a little quicker and we had good practices leading up to today and now we have to build on this."
Howland made a concerted effort to stop Arizona's transition game by sending only to rebounders to the offensive glass and having three players fall back on defense after UCLA shots. That helped slow the quicker Wildcats and gave the Bruins a chance to set up their defense.
"I think we had a sense of urgency tonight to help a teammate if they were beat," Travis Wear said. "Just recover to anyone who got beat or who helped. We closed every gap and contested every shot, didn’t allow open shots. Our team defense was excellent."
5The bench played a vital role
The statistics won't blow anybody away as Anthony Stover, Brendan Lane and Norman Powell combined for only five points and 11 rebounds in 54 minutes, but those were valuable minutes as the Bruins were playing with an eight-man rotation.
With Smith out Lane played a season-high 24 minutes and had a very good first half with five rebounds. Stover played 12 minutes, the third most he's played all season, and had some crucial defensive stops late in the game against Hill, who led Arizona with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Stover also got to the free throw line six times, making three. They were the first free throws he made this season after going 0-5 through the first 14 games. His three points were a season high and the UCLA bench erupted in cheer when he made the first.
"He's been talking about making his first free throw for a while," Jones said. "And he made some big free throws, too. It was a tight game and it showed a lot about his character."