Monday, March 21, 2011

UCLA is bitten by Florida again, 73-65

UCLA teammates Lazeric Jones, Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt, none of whom are seniors, walk off the St. Pete Times Forum court after their 73-65 loss to second-seeded Florida on Saturday afternoon in Tampa, Fla. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / March 19, 2011)

UCLA is bitten by Florida again, 73-65

Attempted steal by Malcolm Lee backfires and turns into the key play in the Gators' third-round NCAA victory.

By Ben Bolch
The Los Angeles Times
7:55 PM PDT, March 19, 2011

Reporting from Tampa, Fla.

The ball, and the game, was his for the taking.

Malcolm Lee watched the inbounds pass from Florida's Scottie Wilbekin sail into the air with UCLA trailing its postseason nemesis by one point and 1 minute 17 seconds left.

Lee judged the flight of the ball, the Bruins guard figuring it might fall short of intended target Erving Walker but wanting to avoid a collision with his Gators counterpart.

"I didn't want to foul him going for it just to put him on the line," Lee said, "so I kind of played it soft, which I think kind of ended up biting me in the butt because I hesitated a little bit to go for it. It was just a bad decision."

Lee went for the steal but missed, his momentum carrying him near midcourt. Walker collected the ball, dribbled ahead and, after checking to make sure Lee was still behind him, pulled up for the three-pointer that helped secure Florida's 73-65 victory in a NCAA tournament third-round game Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

With one flick of Walker's wrist, the second-seeded Gators (28-7) had knocked the seventh-seeded Bruins (23-11) out of the postseason for the third time in six years, a dark final chapter in a bounce-back season.

Lee lingered in dismay near the free-throw line after the final buzzer, his hands planted on his hips. His late gamble was hardly the only culprit for UCLA in a taut, back-and-forth affair in which neither team led by more than four points until the final six minutes.

"We missed too many easy layups, too many open shots, too many free throws, [had] turnovers and bad decisions at the wrong time," said Bruins sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt, who had 13 points but made only four of 14 shots. "You know, in a way we kind of gave them that game, even though they earned it."

UCLA missed four free throws in the final 9:16, including two by Lee on the front end of one-and-one opportunities. Junior guard Lazeric Jones was trapped along the sideline and lost the ball out of bounds with 3:07 left.

And, in another disconcerting development, the biggest man on the court had his shot swatted by a player 100 pounds lighter. With the score tied at 55-55, UCLA Coach Ben Howland designed a play for 305-pound freshman center Joshua Smith to dunk an alley-oop pass.

But Smith collected the lob and planted his feet on the floor before elevating toward the basket. That allowed Florida forward Chandler Parsons, who had been late rotating over, the extra time he needed to recover and block Smith's shot.

"That was a huge play," Howland said.

Kenny Boynton made a three-pointer on the Gators' ensuing possession, giving them the lead for good on the way to securing a spot in a regional semifinal against third-seeded Brigham Young.

Walker also stepped up by scoring 10 of his 21 points in the final 3:58, including a shot he somehow propelled into the basket while falling backward after bouncing off Smith.

UCLA kept the pace to its liking for most of the game, refusing to let the quick Gators speed a turnover-prone team into excessive unforced errors. The Bruins also continually worked the ball inside to Smith (16 points) and sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who had 16 points, 11 rebounds and one bloody scratch on the left side of his face.

But Florida was the aggressor in the second half, securing eight offensive rebounds after being shut out in that category in the first 20 minutes. The Gators had a 35-33 lead at the half.

"They were getting loose balls, they were getting putbacks," said Smith, his voice slow, his eyes red. "I mean, it takes five of us to box out."

Without a senior on its roster, UCLA's starting five is expected to look roughly the same next season. The only player likely to depart is Honeycutt, who said he would decide whether to declare for the NBA draft in the coming weeks.

Smith committed to returning and Nelson intimated he was leaning toward coming back, with his little brother Raymond joining the UCLA football team. Asked about his future, Lee said he wasn't thinking about anything except the loss.

"It was just a few plays here and there," Lee said. "That dumb play on me trying to go for a steal out of bounds, I came up short and Walker hit a three. That was pretty much the play that separated us."

Would he go for the steal again?

"Yeah," he said. "I would just go for it, my first initial instinct, just go after it instead of hesitating."


Sweet nothing for UCLA

Bruins' season comes to an end at hands of NCAA Tournament nemesis Florida

By Jon Gold Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 03/19/2011 10:35:55 PM PDT
Updated: 03/19/2011 10:46:03 PM PDT

TAMPA, Fla. - Malcolm Lee jumped, his left knee ailing, his chest pounding, sweat dripping, and the UCLA guard thought he had the ball.

It was there, maybe an inch away, maybe a mile, but it was there.

And then it wasn't.

And neither was Erving Walker as Lee fell and Walker scurried past.

The 5-foot-8 Florida point guard caught a desperation inbound pass over a leaping Lee, dribbled to the 3-point line and delivered the latest Gators dagger into the hearts of Bruins fans.

Walker's 3-pointer with 1:14 left dropped into the basket to give Florida an insurmountable four-point lead, and the Gators advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 73-65 win over UCLA on Saturday at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum.

It was Florida's third tournament win over the Bruins in six years. It did not come in the championship game like in 2006 or a Final Four semifinal like in 2007, but it was just as painful.

Lee sat at his locker after the game quietly dejected, not outwardly emotional - freshman teammate Joshua Smith sat close by, head in hands and eyes bloodshot - and replayed the moment over and over.

"I kind of played it soft, which ended up biting me in the butt," Lee said. "I hesitated a little bit. It was a bad decision.

"But I would go for it (again), go for my initial instinct instead of hesitating."

For 38 minutes, there was no hesitation for UCLA.

Two days after nearly losing a 23-point lead in a 78-76 win over Michigan State in the second round, there was no up and down like the Bruins have shown all season, no roller coaster, no big lead nor subsequent meltdown.

They were gritty and tough against a fiercely pro-Florida crowd, with Gainesville just a 2-hour drive away.

It looked like they had become men.

For 38 minutes.

Walker then cut directly into their souls by hitting the decisive 3-pointer and four more free throws as UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson both missed 3-pointers and Lee missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Thirty-eight minutes of grit and hustle and determination.

Two minutes of misery.

Months of bad memories.

"I felt this was a game we should've won," Lee said. "It's just really hard when the whole team goes out there and gives it our all. We could've played a lot better, but there was no question our intensity was there. It just hurts when you go 150 percent and still come up short."

No, it was Florida (28-7) that came up short, all 68 inches worth of Walker pushing the Gators past UCLA after backcourt mate Kenny Boynton went down with an ankle sprain with 4:24 left.

Walker had 21 points, including three 3-pointers and 8 of 10 free throws, while Bruins junior point guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson totaled just four points in 40 minutes, all four by Jones.

UCLA was forced to look inside, and for much of the game it worked.

Smith and Nelson each had 16 points and Honeycutt added 13 for the Bruins, who took their last lead with 14:58 remaining and never could build any real momentum.

"We missed too many easy lay-ups, too many open shots, too many free throws, turnovers and bad decisions at the wrong time," Honeycutt said.

"I think in a way, we kind of gave them that game. Even though they earned it and they deserve it.

"But I think we gave it away."

UCLA (23-11) ultimately was doomed by the things that seemed to pop up at exactly the wrong times throughout the year: A lack of an outside threat to counter Walker, poor free-throw shooting and untimely turnovers.

Exhibit A: Honeycutt did make 3 of 6 3-pointers, but UCLA shot just 3 of 13 from behind the arc. Jones and Lee finished a combined 0 for 5.

Exhibit B: The Bruins shot just 64 percent from the free-throw line, including 6 of 10 in the second half, and were just 2 of 6 in the last 10 minutes.

Exhibit C: With 3:07 left and Florida leading by four, the Gators trapped Jones just past the half-court line and he lost the ball for the Bruins' eighth turnover. That was down from their dreadful season average of nearly 15, but it was particularly damaging.

"We were just trying to push it, force the tempo the whole game, and they were doing a good job of handling our pressure," Walker said. "But me and Scottie (Wilbekin) got him into a speed dribble, and I came from behind and we got a huge turnover.

"I think that changed the momentum for us."

It was a momentum swing UCLA could not reverse and a game the Bruins could not pull out.

There will be plenty of second-guessing, even though the future looks bright.

Plenty of soul-searching, too.

It's already started.

"Indecisiveness," Lee posted on his Twitter account soon after the game, "is like committing your suicide."


UCLA BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK: Gators' outside game trumps Bruins' inside game

By Jon Gold Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 03/19/2011 08:53:47 PM PDT
Updated: 03/19/2011 10:50:37 PM PDT

TAMPA, Fla. - March Madness is a time for heroes and a time for goats, a time of luck and of skill, a time of joy and of sorrow.

But mostly, it's a time for mish-mashed styles, for coaching preferences, for big versus little, both in conference size and literal size.

Nowhere was that more evident than Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum in UCLA's 73-65 loss to Florida.

The Bruins entered the game knowing they'd win it by going inside. The Gators knew they'd win it by staying outside.

Ultimately, it was the Florida backcourt that snatched victory from the Bruins - guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton combining for 33 points - but UCLA can rest assured it played its game against Florida.

The Bruins went to the post early and often, utilizing freshman center Joshua Smith and sophomore forward Reeves Nelson with max efficiency.

The two combined for 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half as UCLA trailed 35-33, despite owning a 20-10 rebounding advantage, including a 9-0 edge on offensive rebounding.

"It's our same gameplan every game; just control tempo and play inside-out," Smith said. "For the most part we kind of controlled the inside game, but they were getting putbacks, getting wide-open shots, and they made more plays than we did."

In the second half, though, despite foul trouble for three post players - Vernon Macklin, Patric Young and Erik Murphy each finished with four fouls - Florida flipped the script.

The Gators grabbed 22 rebounds - including eight offensive - to the Bruins' 15, and with Smith facing foul trouble of his own, UCLA lost some of its decided post advantage.

"You have to try to impose your will on the game," Nelson said. "But good teams make adjustments, and that's what they did. At the same time, I thought Josh and I did a good job inside today."

Steal nerves

UCLA coach Ben Howland would not second-guess Lee's decision to go for the steal on the game's decisive play, an inbound pass to Walker that left Lee on the ground after slipping, and Walker nailing a 3-pointer that put the Gators up four with 1:14 left.

"You can go for it, but you can't put yourself out of the play," Howland said. "It's hard; he's playing the game, playing as hard as he can as he always does. You miss out on the steal, and it is one thing. Unfortunately, he took himself out of the play."

The next step?

The Bruins are anxiously awaiting the offseason decisions of several players who have been rumored to be toying with the idea of entering the NBA draft.

Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt is rumored to be the most likely to leap, though he said after the game that he has not made a decision and would consult his family and coaches first. Honeycutt is rated anywhere from a mid-first- to a late second-round pick in most mock drafts.

Howland said he would meet with Honeycutt, a Sylmar High graduate, shortly to discuss his future.

"That's really early," Howland said. "I haven't even discussed it with him. That's something we'll do here over the course of the next few weeks."

The Bruins are also wondering about the fate of junior guard Malcolm Lee and Nelson, who also said he had not made any decisions.

"I haven't thought about it at all," Nelson said. "I was going to try to take this as far as we could go. Now I'm going to just sit down with coach and my parents and then see what happens."

Smith, meanwhile, emphatically said he was returning for his sophomore year in the team's locker room.

Keeping up with the Joneses

UCLA junior point guard Lazeric Jones said he did not need off-season surgery for either his ailing left wrist or right middle finger, despite struggling greatly toward the end of the season.

Before suffering the sprained left wrist, which required a bulky cast, Jones had made 80-of-194 shots (41.2 percent).

After the injury, he made just 22-of-70 shots, for 31 percent, including just 2 of 10 in two NCAA Tournament games.

"No surgery; I just have to do rehab and get it back right," Jones said. "I need to get it back to normal. I've been playing a little awkward lately. Now it's time to get in the gym and get myself together. I have to come back better next year."

No comments: