UCLA’s Chris Smith gets a taste of Murry Bartow’s biggest motivator: the bench

UCLA guard Chris Smith goes to the basket against USC forward Bernie Boatwright in the first half on Jan. 19, 2019, at the Galen Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Less than two minutes after stepping onto the court Saturday, UCLA forward Chris Smith was back on the bench.

The quick hook in the first half against Arizona was the result of two bad plays in as many possessions. Smith committed a charging foul, resulting in a turnover, before losing the ball in transition while dribbling into a pack of defenders.

The mistakes earned Smith a seat on the bench between assistant coaches Duane Broussard and Tyus Edney, who spent the next few minutes discussing what had gone wrong with a visibly frustrated pupil.

Smith did not play again during the Bruins’ 90-69 victory, but UCLA interim coach Murry Bartow said Monday there would be no carryover effect when his team travels to play Washington State on Wednesday.

“Starting today it’s a clean slate and he’s right back very much in the mix,” Bartow said. “We very much like him as a player, but the other night he just wasn’t playing as well as the other guys.”

Bartow has repeatedly used the bench as a motivator in the month since he replaced Steve Alford, subbing out Moses Brown after the center had trouble holding onto the ball and removing Kris Wilkes after the forward took a few too many contested shots. The team’s 10-man rotation affords Bartow the luxury of sitting underperforming players in favor of ones who are more effective.


“It’s not so much demoting them,” Bartow said of the players getting benched, “it’s just playing the other guys.”

Wilkes said the time spent on the bench is best spent in self-reflection.

“You gotta think about what you did,” Wilkes said, “and just prepare yourself to get back in the game and be ready for the next time you come around.”

Wilkes said he texted Smith after the game to keep his spirits up.

“You came in and you had a couple turnovers,” Wilkes said of his message to his teammate, “but we won by 20 points and it’ll be all right and we’re going to need you.”

Bartow’s willingness to bench players has reminded former UCLA standout Marques Johnson of the tactics used by another Bruins coach.

“It took me back to Coach Wooden,” Johnson said recently, referring to the legendary John Wooden.

Wooden had told Johnson not long before he died in 2010 that the most important thing a coach could do was love his players.

“You’ve got to be a disciplinarian, you’ve got to pat them on the back, you’ve got to do a variety of different things, but the bottom line is you’ve got to love them,” Wooden told Johnson. “You’re not going to like them all the time and sometimes you’ve got to act indifferent, but in terms of just loving them overall is the approach you have to have as a coach.”

Johnson said that approach is even more valuable with the me-first mind-set of the modern player.

“That old-school way of doing things,” Johnson said, “I don’t think is quite as effective with today’s athletes.”

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He’s on the board

Alex Olesinski scored his first points of the season Saturday, making a three-pointer in the second half after the Bruins were well on their way to a rout of the Wildcats.

The reserve forward played only 10 minutes but might have made a case for more playing time based on everything he did besides his basket. He grabbed three rebounds, exerted effort on defense and moved the ball on offense, valuable traits on what has at times been a selfish team.

“You’ve got to look well beyond the stat sheet to see his value,” Bartow said. “If you look at the stat sheet and you see what he does but then you watch the tape it’s tenfold because he’s smart, he’s experienced, he sets screens that maybe you don’t see during the game. Defensively, he does subtle things and he just knows how to play and it’s good that he’s back healthy.”

Olesinski, a redshirt junior, has played in five games since returning from a stress fracture in his right foot that forced him to miss the first two months of the season.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch