UCLA becoming more comfortable in the zone

UCLA seems to be getting the hang of this zone defense thing, noticeably absent during Coach Ben Howland’s first four seasons in Westwood.

The Bruins clamped down on Washington in the second half in Thursday night’s 62-61 victory. The Huskies, who shot 58% in the first half, made only eight of 27 shots in the second half.

“They came out and shot the lights out in the first half,” Howland said. “Fortunately, we did a little better job in the second half.”

The Bruins newfound defensive identity will get another test today, when Washington State comes to Pauley Pavilion for a 1 p.m. game.

The Cougars shoot a shade over 48% from the field, ranking them 27th nationally. Their offensive style under first-year Coach Ken Bones is radically different from the pass-and-pick style that was on display in Pullman the last few seasons.

Washington State averages 77 points per game after averaging 59 per game last season.

“They have outstanding shooters,” said Howland, who added that the Cougars can create matchup problems when 6-foot-6 Nikola Koprivica comes off the bench.

“When he’s in, they essentially have four guards out there,” Howland said. “They all can shoot.”

The Bruins haven’t exactly smothered teams this season. They rank 264th nationally, allowing teams to shoot 44% per game.

Still, the Bruins showed an ability to take a team out of its offensive scheme against Washington, at least in the second half. UCLA extended its zone to challenge shots.

It has not been the in-your-face man-to-man Howland’s teams have shown in the past, but the Bruins were aggressive.

“I think for certain matchups and certain teams, in this league, it is probably the best defense to play for us to be competitive and have a chance to win,” Howland said.

Anderson out

Guard Jerime Anderson is not expected to play against Washington State, as he is still nursing a hip flexor injury. Anderson’s health problems are related -- and ongoing, according to Howland.

“It’s not anything that surgery can fix,” Howland said. “It’s in the left groin area. He’s had problems there and the other muscles start compensating. It’s almost chronic. We’ve had 47 practices this season and he’s been in 32. He has not been at his best because he hasn’t stayed healthy.”

Anderson’s absence has meant more time for Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, who saved the Bruins on Thursday night with a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.

Abdul-Hamid played 13 minutes, the most since playing 17 minutes in a 100-68 rout over New Mexico State last weekend.

“We want to play guys who care, and no one loves this program like he does,” Howland said. “He will definitely get more opportunities.”

A half Nelson

Freshman Nelson Reeves had a game-high 16 points and picked up six rebounds against Washington, a performance that was even more impressive considering how badly he had the flu.

“When we came in after the game, I started talking to the team and someone pointed out that Reeves was in the bathroom throwing up,” Howland said.


James Keefe, a 6-foot-8 senior, was inserted into the starting lineup against Washington, as Howland said, “we wanted to get a better start defensively.”