Monday, March 21, 2011

UCLA falls to Florida 73-65 in third round of NCAA Tournament despite putting in one of the year's strongest efforts

Junior guard Lazeric Jones shows frustration as Florida took a six-point lead in the last minutes of the game – the largest lead by the Gators until the final minute. Photo Maya Sugarman The Daily Bruin

UCLA falls to Florida 73-65 in third round of NCAA Tournament despite putting in one of the year's strongest efforts

Published March 19, 2011, 8:24 pm in Men's Basketball Sports
The Daily Bruin

TAMPA, Fla. — Sitting in his cramped locker, reporters long having left him alone, a sulking Malcolm Lee took his frustration out on his sock.

In an instantaneous move, he peeled the long garment off his foot, and thrust the cotton heap to the floor.

“I hesitated, man,” he muttered under his breath, to freshman center Joshua Smith, or perhaps more to himself.

Then, with irritation creeping into his voice:

“I hesitated!”

In that moment, the junior guard and co-captain felt responsible for UCLA’s 73-65 loss to Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. He felt responsible for ending the team’s season. And he felt responsible for making his coach 0-3 against the Gators.

He thought he could have gotten that steal, and he was sure it could have changed the game.

The Bruins were down just one point with 1:17 remaining when the Gators inbounded the ball from beneath their own basket. The pass was a lob over the top to Erving Walker, who waited to receive the ball just in front of the half-court line. As the pass went airborne, Lee made a break for it from the perimeter.

But even as UCLA’s best defender jumped with his arms vertically outstretched, the ball sailed over his finger tips and into the hands of Walker.

He pulled the ball down, and with Lee out of position and out of the play, the Florida guard took three dribbles and pulled up for an NBA-range 3-pointer.

When the ball swished through the net, the Gators found themselves up four and would cruise to a victory behind free throws after that.

“Choices,” Lee said. “That’s what this game is all about. Choices.”

UCLA’s season came to an end in the closest of close games. Until the final moments, no team led by more than six. There were 11 ties and 10 lead changes. Every Bruin player and their coach talked about how well the team played, and subsequently, how the “little things” that went wrong down the stretch killed them.

Minutes prior to Lee’s failed steal attempt, UCLA was down four when junior guard Lazeric Jones got trapped along the sideline and turned the ball over. Florida would capitalize with a bucket inside from center Vernon Macklin to extend its lead to six for only the second time in the game.

Florida’s ability to capitalize on each mistake, combined with two missed front-end free-throws by Lee, and one-for-five 3-point shooting in the final minutes did the Bruins in.

That, and a few big shots from Florida.

Of particular note was a circus shot by Walker, the guard who hit the 3-pointer that sealed the game. In the final minutes, the 5-foot-8-inch junior drove into the paint only to come face to face with UCLA’s 6-foot-10-inch center, Smith. Walker had no choice but to shoot a fall-away jumper, and he did indeed fall to the ground as he let the ball go. But that shot too found its way to the bottom of the net, giving the Gators a five-point lead.

“They made some really big shots, and we really couldn’t do anything about that,” Jones said. “We tried to defend as good as possible, and that’s all we can do, make shots tough.”

But perhaps what was most upsetting to players was the realization that they played one of their most complete games of the season and still got beaten.

Thursday evening against Michigan State, this same UCLA team nearly squandered a 23-point lead that Michigan State cut to one. They played 32 minutes of outstanding basketball, then eight minutes that were less than stellar.

But Saturday, UCLA out-rebounded Florida 20 to 10 in the first half, and played better defense in the second half. They again had four players in double figures, and sophomore Reeves Nelson recorded his second double-double in as many Tournament games.

“I think we just gave away the game,” sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said. “Too many mistakes. … It just adds up. It definitely shouldn’t have been that close.”

For a team that has had its effort questioned all year, no one questioned the Bruins on this night.

Smith’s eyes were red after the game. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson’s shoulder was red from getting scratched, as was his forehead long after the in-game bleeding stopped. Junior guard Jerime Anderson politely asked a photographer whether he had taken enough photos.

The much-maligned Bruins took this final loss to heart, and their coach knew it.

“I’m really proud of these kids,” coach Ben Howland said. “When they got knocked down, they got back up and fought back; not only tonight in this game, but all year long.”

But those kind words from a tough coach didn’t do much to console Lee.

As the clock wound under five seconds, Lee, the outstanding defender, wasn’t on defense. He was standing under his own basket, squarely at the free-throw line, gazing at Florida’s basket, watching the Gators celebrate.

He stood there statue-like for four seconds, hands pasted to his hips. The buzzer sounded and Lee dropped his head, ripping his jersey out of his shorts. Then he headed to the tunnel, on his way to the locker room, on his way back home.

“It was disbelief,” Lee said. “It felt like I was in a dream because we really thought we were going to win this game. And just to see that the other team, their whole crowd just cheering, it just snaps you back into reality real fast. It’s like, ‘Damn, is this really happening right now?’

“Unfortunately, it was.”


Interview: Howland, Nelson and Honeycutt

By Tracy Pierson
Posted Mar 20, 2011

Coach Ben Howland, Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson answered questions from the media after the Bruins lost to Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday...

COACH HOWLAND: Well, I was really proud of the way we played today. We gave ourselves a great chance there, down one with 40-some seconds to go, and went for a long steal, we missed, and the little guy played great down the stretch for them, Walker, burned us with it. He really did a great job down the stretch for their team.
You know, we were right there, and the thing was going back and forth a lot there late in the game. I thought our defense was a little better in the second half compared to the first. We did a good job on the boards, but they ended up hurting us in the second half early in the half on offensive rebounds because we were out-boarding them by ten at halftime and it ended up being only three, so they out-boarded us by seven.
I thought we did a good job of taking care of the basketball. It's a tough way to end your season. Only one team ends up really happy. But I'm really proud of our team, the way that we grew as a team this year and developed and continued to get better. You have to give Florida credit. I mean, they ended up beating us by eight, but it was a one-point game there, and we needed to get one more stop.

Q. For Reeves, how physical and how nasty was it down low today?
Reeves Nelson: They have good bigs. Like you said, they're physical, especially No. 4 was pretty physical, and he had his way a few times there with some of my teammates. And when I was on him, I just tried to just make him take a tough shot. And then the rest did a good job of rebounding and getting easy buckets off passes from the guards.

Q. Tyler, can you talk about Walker? We always talk about bad match-ups. Was he a tough match-up because he's so quick and so unafraid to take those kind of shots?
Tyler Honeycutt: Yeah, you don't see too many point guards who are 5'8" these days. Point guards are usually bigger. He can shoot from almost 30 feet. It's hard to get out there on him because he's so quick and so able to get to the basket.

Q. Tyler, could you just talk about the quality of this game, how tight it was throughout, and what you think ultimately swung it in their favor?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: I think, you know, in this game we missed too many easy lay-ups, too many open shots, too many free throws, turnovers and bad decisions at the wrong time. You know, I think in a way we kind of gave them that game, even though they earned it, they deserve it. But I think we gave it away.

Q. For Tyler, your down one with about a 1:13 to go and Walker hits the three. Can you talk about psychologically the impact a shot like that has?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: It hurts, but the game wasn't over still, a minute and something left, and it's only a two-basket game. But it got them pumped up, got the crowd into it, then we were kind of on our heels at that point.

Q. I know you guys dealt with different environments, but coming across the country and playing in a crowd that is very pro-Florida, is it even a little bit of a factor at all? What was it like out there?
REEVES NELSON: Yeah, we knew coming in that it was going to basically be a road game for us, so they earned it by doing well in the regular season, they got the 2 seed close to home. So that was to their advantage, and their crowd definitely helped them at the end of the game.

Q. Reeves, how far do you think this Florida team can go after playing them?
REEVES NELSON: I can definitely see them in the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four, whoever comes from the top of the bracket. So they're a good team, they can beat you a lot of different ways, and they definitely earned our respect today.

Q. Tyler, as the team that comes in here without much experience, a young team, will it help being here as you look -- as this program looks forward?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: I don't get the question.

Q. Just looking to the future, does this experience having been here help you guys as this thing moves forward?
TYLER HONEYCUTT: Yeah, it will, because we've got everybody coming back next year. There's no seniors. I don't really believe -- me personally don't feel that it's a factor because it's a game of basketball at the end of the day. A lot of it comes down to your coaches and what situations they've been in, if they've been here before, and you know, ours has plenty of times.

Q. Coach, can you talk about, is it that much more deflating to lose a game like that where you battled and battled and battled? I think four points was the biggest lead until the very end.
COACH HOWLAND: It's never fun to lose, and I'm really proud of how we battled today. We played very well, considering we only had eight turnovers. The foul shooting, we ended up shooting 64 percent. We missed some one-on-ones. I didn't realize that Malcolm Lee's last free throw was a one-on-one. I thought he was shooting until after he missed it and the play was going the other way.
You know, it's obviously a tough loss. There's a finality to this. Our season is over. And our guys played with a lot of character, a lot of heart today, a lot of toughness, and we played a very good team.
I think Florida has got an outstanding team. They have some seniors, they have some guys that have been through this process of building back up to where they are now, and you have to give them credit.

Q. They took the lead for good on a sequence where Smith was going up for a dunk, Parsons got a block that led to a three on the other end. Can you talk about that sequence?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, it was a big play because he was wide open, and he went up and probably should have shot faked it. I'm not sure it was a clean block or not. My assistants questioned that when we talked about it after the game. It was actually designed, though, so that when he caught it he was dunking it in the air as opposed to bringing it down. But that was a huge play because they get the block. We were right there, point blank, having a chance to go up two if we score that basket, and it was right there. I mean, you can't get a better attempt than what we had there.

Q. From your perspective, what makes Walker so effective out there?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, he's so quick, he's very fast, he's athletic, and he's very skilled. He can really shoot it. He shoots a very high percentage from three. He's a fearless little guy. I mean, he got a big and-one there at the end of the game where he was driving to the basket. He's just a very good player.

Q. Can you also talk about the player where Walker drove into Josh and kind of ran into a wall and stood right up and it went in?
COACH HOWLAND: It was a big play, and Josh was right there. He just kind of bounced off him and hung in the air, and that was a very big play. The little guy, I don't know how many points he scored down the stretch, including his foul shooting. I mean, Boynton ended up with -- Walker ended up with 21. I bet he had 11 of them in the last three minutes, something like that. He's a very good player.

Q. What did you think the difference was in the second half in terms of Florida being able to reestablish a little bit of control of the boards after you dominated so much in the first half?
COACH HOWLAND: I thought they did a good job attacking the offensive glass, and they got three or four key baskets in the first seven, eight minutes of the half. You could see they had a real emphasis to do that, and we didn't block out well. Bottom line is our block-outs, we missed some block-outs and allowed them to get some second shots. We had to block out better.

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