Bruins rise early, finish late and beat Stanford, 68-57
Lazeric Jones wished he was dreaming when an assistant coach delivered a wake-up knock on his dorm room door shortly before 8 Saturday morning.
“I didn’t like it too well,” the UCLA point guard said.
A few hours later, the Bruins were still feeling groggy.
“I kind of felt it in warmups,” junior guard Malcolm Lee said. “I was a little sluggish.”
UCLA’s malaise carried over to the first 10 minutes of a rare late-morning game at Pauley Pavilion. Stanford took a 14-point lead, appearing poised to hand the Bruins a nationally televised flogging on their home court.
“They definitely came out and punched us first,” UCLA sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said.
All of which made the Bruins’ counterpunch even more staggering.
Playing with poise that belied its inexperience, UCLA stormed back for a 68-57 victory that left the Cardinal woozy and solidified the Bruins as a team to be reckoned with, even without a full complement of players.
UCLA held Stanford to 30.8% shooting and committed only one turnover in the final 29:11, avoiding the late collapse it had experienced in a two-point victory over California on Thursday. The Bruins also made a hearty chunk of their free throws for a change, with Lee and Jones combining to make 19 of 21.
Seemingly every Bruin contributed to the team’s fourth consecutive victory. Tyler Honeycutt made big shots, Jones attacked the basket, Lee played stellar defense, Nelson gutted out the final 7½ minutes despite a sprained left ankle and even seldom-used freshman center Anthony Stover had five points and five rebounds.
And so UCLA (13-6 overall, 5-2 Pacific 10 Conference) completed a home sweep of the Bay Area schools with freshman center Joshua Smith playing a total of six minutes in the two games because of a head injury suffered against Cal.
“We’re just coming together as a team, and I think we’ll be pretty dangerous if we keep this going,” said Nelson, who also played despite a bone bruise in his right knee and a popped bursa sac in his left elbow that he had sustained against the Golden Bears.
With Smith sidelined Saturday and Nelson mostly neutralized by double teams, the Bruins relied on a guard-heavy lineup featuring Honeycutt at power forward. The 6-foot-8 sophomore proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Cardinal (10-8, 3-4), either slashing to the basket or venturing outside for three-pointers on the way to 16 points.
Lee was an even more potent double threat. He scored 23 points while holding normally sharpshooting Stanford guard Jeremy Green to 12 points on four-for-15 shooting.
“There’s not a better defender maybe in the country at the wing than Malcolm Lee,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
The Bruins could have made a compelling case for being one of the worst teams in the nation in the early going. Nelson had a shot blocked, Honeycutt committed an unforced turnover and Stover missed a point-blank put-back as Stanford raced to a 22-8 lead.
Howland called three timeouts in the first 10:24 in an attempt to snap the Bruins out of their funk. But players on a team without a senior found strength in what until recently had been an unlikely source: themselves.
“They were on each other, [saying] ‘Let’s go.’ ” Howland said. “It was nice to see that kind of leadership.”
Lee scored six consecutive points, on a three-point play and a three-point shot, and UCLA was off on a 13-0 push. When Honeycutt made a three-pointer to tie the score at 24-24, the crowd roared and the Bruins were on their way.
“Once we got it going,” Lee said, “we really got it going.”
Honeycutt later gave UCLA a 51-46 lead on a three-pointer with 7:17 left in the game, an advantage he would help extend to 10 points with a jumper from the left wing nearly four minutes later as the Bruins avoided the late-game mistakes that have plagued them all season.
“We’re becoming really mentally tough,” said Jones, who had 17 points and a career-high six rebounds. “When things don’t go our way, we’re out there fighting for each other.”
No matter what time of day.
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