For UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt, it’s always overtime

Tyler Honeycutt, a nocturnal gym rat, has finagled his way into Pauley Pavilion after hours for more than a month.

The late-night sessions logged by the UCLA freshman forward are nothing new. He did the same thing at Sylmar High.

“He and his friends would get out of school at 3 p.m., they’d practice, go eat, and then go back to the gym until 10-11 p.m.,” said Lisa Stazel, his mother. “If I needed to find him, the gym was where I looked first.”

Honeycutt’s midnight madness this year helped him make up for lost time.

A back injury during the summer set him back and a leg injury in November sat him down for the first six games this season. His play, especially late in the season, has been a bright spot in one of the worst seasons in UCLA history.

Yet, there is optimism in his approach that allows him to view the Bruins’ Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament opener Thursday against Arizona as a new starting point.

“We want to win the tournament,” Honeycutt said. “We want to finish over .500, but we definitely want to win the tournament. It doesn’t matter how you start the season, it matters how you finish.”

For the 13-17 Bruins to finish above .500, they would have to win the conference tournament and reach a regional final in the NCAA tournament. And just to win the conference tournament UCLA would have to do something it has accomplished only once this season — win three consecutive games, and this time Delaware State won’t be part of the equation.

Big games by Honeycutt would certainly help the cause. UCLA has won when he has contributed most.

Honeycutt had 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in a victory over Stanford on Feb. 4 and 18 points, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots, four assists and three steals in a win over Oregon State late last month.

For the season, Honeycutt is averaging 7.3 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds, though he is said to be of the opinion he could do more on offense.

“He has been frustrated,” Stazel said. “He feels he can contribute more offensively. He would really like for Ben [Howland, UCLA’s coach] to cut him loose a little more on offense.”

A long and lean 6 feet 8, 200 pounds, Honeycutt appeared destined to be a Bruin from an early age. Said Stazel: “When he was a f 5 years old he called me into his bedroom. He was standing on his bed and he put his arms around me and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be taller than you and I’m going to be a basketball player at UCLA.’ ”

However, just as that goal was about to be reached Honeycutt was sidelined with a back injury that kept him sidelined all summer. He wasn’t even allowed to shoot a basketball. It was a tough order for a guy who wouldn’t eat dinner until around midnight, when he returned home from the gym.

Then, after he did come back, the leg injury kept him out at the start of the season.

“It just made me appreciate basketball more,” Honeycutt said. “I still went to the gym, but every day I had to watch the guys playing basketball and there was nothing I could do.”

There is now. Honeycutt’s play in conference landed him on the Pacific 10 Conference’s all-freshman team.

Credit, in part, those late nights at Pauley Pavilion for that.

“I got to know the guy who let me in after intramurals were done at 11 p.m.,” Honeycutt said. “If he wasn’t there, there was a student worker I could call. He is there until 1 a.m.

“That’s what I did in high school to get here. That’s what I’m going to do to get better.”