This was therapeutic … or maybe UCLA’s basketball players have just become numb to upheaval.
In a season that has lurched from one hot spot to another, the Bruins had a uncomplicated evening. Beating Washington State, 78-46, Thursday night at the Sports Arena was more than a Pac-12 Conference victory. It was 40 minutes without incident.
“We just needed a win,” guard Lazeric Jones said.
The Bruins have walked on coals since before the season began.
Jerime Anderson, their senior point guard, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft before the season. Reeves Nelson, their leading scorer in 2010-11, was suspended twice before being booted from the team in December.
The program was portrayed as in chaos, with Coach Ben Howland’s handling of situations called into question by Sports Illustrated in an article posted online Wednesday.
The Bruins seemed to shrug Thursday, and they turned in a what-me-worry performance.
“It was important for us to not let that [article] bother us,” center Joshua Smith said. “We had to show we were the same guys who have worked hard, gone to class and done what Coach Howland tells us.”
It helped that the Cougars (14-15, 6-11 Pac-12) played their traditional role as UCLA care package. The loss left Washington State at 2-54 against the Bruins in Los Angeles.
This became a stat-fest quickly.
Jones made eight of 10 shots, finishing with 18 points and five assists. Tyler Lamb had 16 points and five assists. The Bruins, 17-13 overall, 10-7 in conference play, had 26 assists on their 32 field goals, with nine assists from Anderson.
“It was time for us to move forward,” Howland said.
UCLA players tried to push that agenda in a postgame news conference dominated by questions about the program’s state.
“I didn’t even read the article,” said Jones, who suffered a sprained left ankle in the first half and didn’t play the last eight minutes. “We came into practice [Wednesday] and nobody talked about it.”
David Wear, who had 13 points, said the Bruins were unified.
“We stood together as a team and family,” Wear said. But, he claimed, “there was no reaction to the article.”
Still, Wear said, “We needed to have a good game.”
The latest turmoil involving UCLA involved the Sports Illustrated article that portrayed the program as rotting from within. Instances of violence in practice — alleged to be mostly caused by Nelson — were cited, with a portrait of Howland as a coach unable to control his players. Howland said Thursday that parts of the story were untrue.
There appeared to be no hangover from the article a day later.
Washington State scored the first five points, then was buried. Jones scored seven consecutive points and the Bruins were off to a stress-free evening, leading 38-19 at halftime. A 13-2 run to open the second half doused any comeback thoughts.
“I’m proud of the way the team played,” Howland said. But, he said, “It had nothing to do with the article other than we were under a lot of media attention.”