Reeves Nelson, UCLA’s leading scorer and rebounder a year ago, didn’t play a minute in the second half and Joshua Smith, the Bruins’ third-leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer a year ago, played four of the final 20.
It is perhaps less noteworthy that UCLA lost to Texas, 69-59, Saturday at the Sports Arena than that junior forward Nelson spent most of the game on the bench laughing and pointing at people in the season-high crowd of 6,177 who were chanting his name or that sophomore center Smith didn’t make it all the way up the court on more than one play as he would try to catch his breath.
Howland pointed to a missed defensive assignment in the first half and two bad practices leading into the game as reasons why Nelson didn’t leave the bench in the second half and the continuing issue of Smith’s lack of conditioning for his sit-down time.
“Reeves, it’s up to him, to his mental part,” Howland said. “He had a couple of practices that were not great and he missed a defensive assignment late in the first half when [Clint Chapman] dunked. Josh still has a lot to work to put in in terms of conditioning.”
Neither Nelson nor Smith was available to comment after the game. Nelson missed his only shot and had two turnovers and three rebounds in 12 minutes while Smith had six points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.
Texas guard J’Covan Brown said Longhorns Coach Rick Barnes had told his team that if Texas (5-2) played physical, UCLA (2-5) would tire and fade.
“Coach said to keep wearing them down,” said Brown, who had a game-high 22 points. “He told us if we keep hitting them with screens, they’ll stop running through them.”
For a while, it seemed the Bruins might find themselves an unexpected win. They broke to a 30-19 lead after a Smith free throw when the lights over the court went off after an areawide power surge.
After nearly 14 minutes of standing around, it was the Longhorns who took advantage of the break. When play resumed, Texas outscored UCLA 9-4 to finish the half and continued to play aggressively and quickly on offense in the second.
Howland suggested that the Bruins, before their next game Saturday against Pennsylvania, might install a zone defense.
At least one Bruin, point guard Lazeric Jones, hopes that doesn’t happen.
“I’m not too big on the zone, to be honest,” Jones said. “It’s too stagnant. I feel like you get a little laid back. With the man-to-man you have to be aggressive.”
But, at least according to the Texas players, most of the aggressiveness was on the Longhorns end Saturday.