Bruins are not taking Montana State lightly
The first word on Montana State’s jersey should provide UCLA with all the inspiration it needs.
Montana went into Pauley Pavilion this month and handed the Bruins a demoralizing loss. Now comes another team from the Treasure State, only with five extra letters.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland appeared to play the name game Saturday when he spoke to his players after a victory over Brigham Young.
“Coach was saying after the game, we’re playing Montana … State,” freshman center Joshua Smith said Monday. “We already remember the Montana game and how bad we felt that we lost to a team at home that was set up for us to win.”
The Bruins’ 66-57 loss was the ultimate letdown for a team that had nearly defeated Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse three days earlier. Players blamed the outcome on several factors, including fatigue and taking the Grizzlies lightly.
“I don’t think it will ever happen again,” sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said.
Montana State doesn’t seem to pose as much of a threat as its cross-state rival from the Big Sky Conference. The Bobcats (6-5) are 0-5 on the road and have lost four of their last five games. Their only victory this month came over Johnson & Wales, which plays in NAIA Division II.
Still, the Bruins know all too well what can happen against a supposedly overmatched opponent.
“We’re known for playing to the level of our competition, and we have to play to the level that we’re capable of every night,” junior guard Malcolm Lee said. “You just have to go into every game knowing that it’s not about who’s supposed to win but who does, and just because your name says UCLA, Connecticut, Kentucky or whatever doesn’t mean it gives you an automatic win.”
Working the ball inside has been increasingly tempting for the Bruins, given the way Smith has played lately. The big man has averaged 12.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in 23 minutes over his last five games after averaging 7.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 16 minutes over his first five games.
“When you have a guy that is big that has great hands that can play inside, it really makes it easier to feed the post,” Howland said.
Smith attributed his rise in production to being more aggressive. He is also largely avoiding foul trouble, averaging two fouls per game over his last five games after committing four fouls in each of his first five games.
Howland, on the difference in the bodies of former Bruins big man Kevin Love and the 6-foot-10, 305-pound Smith after seeing Love on campus Sunday: “He just looks like a little junior high kid compared to Josh.” … All five Bruins starters are averaging double figures in points for the first time.