Bruins have no answers in Pac-12 flameout
Seniors Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones, arms draped over each other, trudged back to the UCLA locker room Thursday.
“We were trying to console each other,” Jones said.
Joshua Smith called the last five months “a big disappointment.”
Travis Wear was perplexed, saying, “It’s tough to say what happened this season.”
The talk was unnecessary. The emotionless way the Bruins lumbered off the court after a 66-58 loss to Arizona in the Pacific Life Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinals was a picture worth 1,000 words.
When forwards Solomon Hill (25 points) and Jesse Perry (16 points) were done slicing and dicing UCLA into submission, it was the Wildcats (22-10) who were going to play Oregon State in Friday’s semifinals. The Bruins had a date with self-evaluation.
Did the Reeves Nelson soap opera that started the season finish the Bruins? Did a Sports Illustrated story expose an overall flaw in the program? Did the 300-pound Smith lack the hunger to lose weight?
No one could be pinned down.
The best Jones could offer was, “I don’t think many teams could have gotten through what we got through and stayed together.”
The Bruins (19-14) were picked to win the conference. They didn’t. They needed a dramatic four-day run this week to get into the NCAA tournament. They were stopped on Day 2.
“It was going to be a good season for us,” Smith said. “All the hype surrounding us, we were ranked, and right now the season might be over.”
That is in the hands of the NIT committee.
“We’re not going to snub our nose at playing in the NIT,” Coach Ben Howland said.
Postseason or not, a postmortem was already in progress.
“I feel like we have a lot good pieces here,” Travis Wear said. “We didn’t show people how good a team were are.”
Smith, whose conditioning has been questioned all season, took some blame.
“For me to be the player I want to be, and the player my teammates need me to be, I need to work this off-season,” Smith said. “I was supposed to make that jump and I didn’t. That’s all on me.”
Anderson generalized, saying, “Every team has ups and downs. We’re UCLA — sometimes those downs get exaggerated.”
Yet, there was no avoiding the fact that the Bruins went out they way they entered this season — not with a bang, but a whimper.
The 6-foot-6 Hill and 6-7 Perry — the Wildcats’ little big men — took turns bullying past and through UCLA’s bigger front line. They were rewarded for their efforts. Hill made 12 of 14 free throws. Perry 12 of 13. Both finished with 12 rebounds.
Hill made five of nine shots, including three of six three-point tries.
“Hill’s a nightmare to guard for a big man,” Travis Wear said.
UCLA had eight more field goals (23-15), but Arizona was 31 of 36 from the free-throw line. UCLA was 10 of 16.
Smith fouled out in only nine minutes. Travis Wear also fouled out.
“All night, we had problems matching up with Hill and Perry,” Howland said.
But this was less about matchups than it was about will. The Wildcats had some.
UCLA was trailing, 38-33, and had a fastbreak blunted when Arizona’s Nick Johnson blocked two shots. Johnson, a 6-2 guard, blocked two more shots in the final four minutes, both on 6-10 Travis and David Wear.
The Bruins lacked that determination. With the score tied, 51-51, with six minutes left, Lamb booted the ball out of bounds in transition. Travis Wear missed the front end of a one-and-one on the Bruins’ next possession.
A 7-0 blue-collar-type run gave Arizona a 58-51 lead with 4:43 left.
Said Howland, “We had the opportunities to win this game and did not seize the moment.”
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.