Sunday, December 11, 2011

New-look UCLA holds off Penn, 77-73

Photo: Bruins guard Lazeric Jones (11) sets up the offense against Penn and guard Zack Rosen in the first half Saturday at Honda Center. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire

New-look UCLA holds off Penn, 77-73

Published: Dec. 10, 2011 Updated: 9:22 p.m.

ANAHEIM – UCLA is a team in transition.

In recent days the Bruins have added a new defense (a zone) and dropped a longtime headache (volatile all-conference forward Reeves Nelson). Mainly the Bruins are a team in search of the right chemistry.

UCLA's 77-73 victory against Penn in front of 6,332 at Honda Center on Saturday suggests that between adopting the zone and losing Nelson the Bruins might have found the right formula to jumpstart a so far disappointing season.

Point guard Lazeric Jones scored 21 points while also dishing out four assists, and forward David Wear posted his first double-double as a Bruin (11 points, 12 rebounds) enabling UCLA (3-5) to withstand a lethal shooting night by Quakers guard Tyler Bernardini.

Bernardini, who grew up in Carlsbad, sank 8 of 12 3-point field-goal attempts en route to finishing a game- and career-high 29 points.

Bernardini's shooting brought the Quakers back from a 14-point deficit midway through the second half.

"When you even gave him an inch of space he knocked it down," Jones said. A Bernardini 3-pointer pulled Penn to 71-67 with 2:58 remaining but the Quakers (5-6) could not narrow the gap any further.

"It was important for us to get a win," UCLA coach Ben Howland said after the Bruins' only second victory in their past five games. "It was a good feeling to get a win ... a step in the right direction."

Saturday's victory was the latest in a series of major steps Howland and the Bruins took last week.

UCLA has billed its season away from an under-renovation Pauley Pavilion as the "Bruin Road Show."

The show arrived in Anaheim with a lighter load, having shed the baggage that has been the distraction of Nelson.

Howland, having already twice suspended Nelson in less than a month this season, dismissed the junior forward Friday believing the move would be a "positive" for the team but was still uncertain how his players would react.

"Anytime you have someone that you dismiss from the team it changes the chemistry," Howland said.

At least Saturday the move produced the right chemical reaction.

"It feels like I've lost a brother," UCLA center Joshua Smith said of Nelson. "We are the closest of friends but he and Coach discussed it. We are going to go out and play hard."

Even with Nelson gone, Howland had to overcome another set of philosophical differences.

Howland, who throughout his career has been almost militant in his insistence on playing man-to-man defense, has reluctantly acknowledged this team will benefit from playing a zone.

The Bruins stayed in a 2-3 zone for nearly a third of Saturday's victory.

"Zone is not preferred, but it's what fitting for our team now," Howland said.

"We need to use it, it will be helpful for us, especially as we get better at it."


UCLA zones in for 77-73 win over Penn

UCLA holds off Pennsylvania for a 77-73 victory, as the Bruins employed more zone defense than usual — and more than Coach Ben Howland likes to use.

By Diane Pucin
The Los Angeles Times
8:50 PM PST, December 10, 2011

Ben Howland made a concession this week.

UCLA will be playing more zone defense.

The coach hopes it will be played a little better after more practice. UCLA held on for a 77-73 win over Pennsylvania at the Honda Center on Saturday, the victory almost in spite of rather than because of the zone.

Penn guard Tyler Bernardini, a 6-foot-6 senior from Carlsbad, scored a career-high 29 points and made 8 of his 12 three-point shots in the effort.

Adding more zone defense isn't a decision Howland made lightly. In most of his years as UCLA head coach, he has stayed steadfast that man-to-man defense is the only defense he wants to play.

But having seen his team struggle this season, Howland has installed zone, and it's here to stay.

"Zone is not preferred," Howland said, "but it's what is fitting for our team now. We practiced zone at each of our practices this week. We're going to need to use it and be a team that plays both man and zone."

This has been a week of turmoil for the Bruins. Reeves Nelson, the junior who led UCLA in scoring and rebounding a year ago, was suspended for the second time this year and then Friday was officially dismissed from the team.

Sophomore center Josh Smith said losing Nelson as a teammate gave him the same feeling as losing a brother. "We are the closest of friends," said Smith, who had 12 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.

"Obviously, this is a tough time," point guard Lazeric Jones (team-high 21 points) said. "But my teammates came out and stayed focused and got the win. That shows how mentally tough we are."

It seemed UCLA (3-5) was safely on to victory when, with 9:40 left in the game, Jones hit a jump shot to put the Bruins up 60-46. But Bernardini immediately knocked down a three-pointer, and when he hit his final one, with 2:58 left, the Quakers (5-6) were within four, at 71-67.

And with 29 seconds left and UCLA hanging on to a 75-70 lead, Bernardini rimmed out a final three-point shot.

"Whenever we gave him just an inch of space, he made it," Jones said. "That's something we have to work on, when someone is hot like that."

Howland said that however the win was accomplished, it was necessary.

"It was important for us to win a close game," he said. "It was an important game to win. It's a step in the right direction."

Sophomore David Wear, who had his first career double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds), agreed. "It was our first week where we've concentrated on running the zone, but I think we could be a really good zone team. We have to get back and work out some kinks."


UCLA guard Norman Powell battles for the ball with Penn forward Fran Dougherty during a 77-73 victory at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / December 10, 2011)

Men's basketball fends off Pennsylvania Quakers in close victory

The Daily Bruin in Men's BasketballSports
Published December 10, 2011, 11:51 pm

ANAHEIM — The UCLA men’s basketball team sat at the intersection of two transitions prior to Saturday’s matchup against Pennsylvania.

In the rear-view mirror was junior forward Reeves Nelson, dismissed a day earlier by coach Ben Howland. At the same time they were losing a key cog, the Bruins were also establishing a new defensive mindset that will stay with them for the remainder of the season – the zone.

For a day, UCLA didn’t look like a team in transition. The Bruins held off a late run from the Quakers to win, 77-73.

Howland hinted at it after last week’s loss to Texas, but finally deployed a zone midway through the first half and mixed it with man-to-man defense for the remainder of the game. It virtually eliminated any attacks to the basket for the Quakers (5-6), who chose to shoot over the top of the spaced-out defense.

“It’s not my preference, but I think it’s what’s fitting our team right now,” Howland said.

The zone forced long-range shots – the Quakers took four more 3-pointers than 2-pointers in the game – but Penn still was able to convert 12 of their 31 chances, with guard Tyler Bernardini hitting eight of his own.

Faced with the zone themselves at times, the Bruins (3-5) were more patient on offense. They worked their way inside-out with the ball and scored 34 points in the paint. Sophomore center Joshua Smith scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, including a backboard-shaking dunk.

Still, the Quakers made it a game with a 12-3 run that cut it to a four-point UCLA lead with 2:58 to play.

The Bruins closed out the game with a suffocating closing stretch, forcing a hot-shooting Bernardini into two more misses with the game still within the Quakers’ reach. Senior guard Jerime Anderson added an emphatic block, and a five-second inbounds violation got the Honda Center as loud as it had been during UCLA’s first of four home games in the venue.

“We’ve been in that situation where we’ve played a team that has shooters, like with Michigan,” said senior guard Lazeric Jones, who had a team-high 21 points. “We kind of broke down, so we were telling each other coming out of the huddle not to break down, not to give up on defense and keep fighting. To see that we came through at the end against a similar team gives us a lot of confidence.”

The Bruins hung their hat on their defense closing out the game but admitted they were still figuring out the zone, which they started focusing on just a few days earlier.

“We could be a really good zone-defensive team,” redshirt sophomore forward David Wear said. “We had some breakdowns in it but we’ve only been running it for a week now. We’re going to get back, work out some kinks, and I think we’ll be that much better.”

Improvements on a disastrous start to the season will have to happen without Nelson, who was the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder. On Saturday it didn’t look like UCLA missed Nelson on the court, but it’s a different story off the court.

“Personally, I felt like I lost a brother. Reeves is one of my closest friends, I love him to death,” Smith said. “Our attitude doesn’t change. Whoever’s on the team, we’ve got to go out and play hard with the guys we’ve got.”


Defensive shift helps UCLA men's basketball team fluster Penn in victory

By Sam Strongm Special to the Daily News (via The Long Beach Press-Telegram)
Posted: 12/10/2011 10:21:57 PM PST
Updated: 12/10/2011 11:07:27 PM PST

ANAHEIM - The Bruin Road Show's tour of Southern California now is complete.

The Bruins, playing their first of four games at the Honda Center - the final stop on the road show's three-arena parade -decided to try something new Saturday.

Coach Ben Howland and his Bruins were 1-3 at their primary home, the Sports Arena. With the change of venue, Howland decided to change UCLA's defensive philosophy. Deploying an uncharacteristic zone defense worked just well enough for UCLA to escape with a 77-73 win over Penn.

Howland, who rarely departs from the man-to-man scheme that brought him success at Pittsburgh and earlier at UCLA, reluctantly made the switch midway through the first half after several of his big men were on the verge of foul trouble. That included sophomore center Joshua Smith, who picked up two fouls shortly after entering the game.

"Zone defense is not my preference, but I think it's what fits our team right now," said Howland, who added UCLA made a commitment to practicing the zone last week and will continue to play a combination of man and zone as the season continues.

The zone helped UCLA open the second half on a 6-0 run. As Smith started to get more touches, the outside shots began to fall and UCLA's lead ballooned. The Bruins held Penn to 39-percent shooting from the field in the second half as opposed to 52 percent in the first.

Smith scored on three of five possessions early in the second half, including a two-handed slam off a lob assist from senior guard Jerime Anderson.

Two possessions later, Smith drew a double team and got the ball to redshirt sophomore Travis Wear, who then found freshman guard Norman Powell open for a 3-pointer that pushed the Bruins' lead to 13 points with just under six minutes to play.

"We know what our strengths are," said Smith, who finished with 12 points after failing to score in double figures in UCLA's last two games. "We want to get the ball inside. We want to be aggressive under the basket.

"It's really nice to watch when you get guys wide-open threes."

A late 21-11 run by Penn (5-6) made things close. The catalyst to that surge was Quakers guard Tyler Bernardini, who had 15 points in the second half and was 8 for 12 on 3-pointers. That matched the Bruins' total from behind the arc.

Late baskets from senior captain Lazeric Jones and Smith, however, helped seal the outcome.

"It was important for us to win a close game," Howland said. "Our guys made big plays down the stretch."

Said Jones, "We've been in that situation where we've played a team that has shooters and we broke down. We were telling each other to keep fighting, and to see us come through at the end gave us a lot of confidence."

Confidence was in short supply coming into Saturday's game after junior forward Reeves Nelson, the team's leading scorer last season, was dismissed from the team on Friday. He had been indefinitely suspended for the second time earlier in the week.

Howland said he plans to meet with Nelson again today to discuss his options.

"Anytime you dismiss a player from the team, it changes the chemistry," Howland said. "I'm wishing Reeves nothing but the best and I'm going to help him in any way that I can."

The Bruins (3-5) doubled their win count over Division I opponents this season.

"We have to play hard with the guys we've got," Smith said. "We had guys playing hard the whole game and it was a really good win for us."


New-look Bruins zone in for 77-73 victory

By Peter Yoon
ESPN Los Angeles, UCLA Report
December, 11, 2011 12:02 AM PT

ANAHEIM--The UCLA basketball team had a new look in terms of both personnel and scheme and took the court at a different arena, but the most important change was that on the scoreboard.

Playing their first game without Reeves Nelson and their first game this season at the Honda Center, UCLA held off a pesky Pennsylvania, 77-73, in a nonconference game Saturday afternoon.

The Bruins (3-5), struggling out of the gate this season, doubled their season victory total against Division I teams by implementing a zone for significant stretches of the game, taking advantage of their significant size advantage and playing efficiently on offense.

Lazeric Jones had 21 points for UCLA, David Wear had 11 points and 12 rebounds and Travis Wear and Joshua Smith each had 12 points in a balanced attack for the Bruins.

Five observations from the game:

1) The Bruins needed this win

It was a difficult week for UCLA as Reeves Nelson, the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder, was dismissed from the team because of conduct issues. It would have been easy for the team to come out flat and unenergetic, but they channeled their emotions into a passable performance on both ends of the floor.

"It was important for us to get a win," coach Ben Howland said. "It was a good feeling to win and again. Any time you have someone that you dismiss from the team, it changes the chemistry."

Despite his occasional outbursts on the court, Nelson is well-liked by many of the UCLA players, so dealing with the emotion of losing him has been difficult.

"Obviously this is a tough time but the fact that my teammates stayed focused and came out and played hard and got a win shows how mentally tough we are," Jones said.

2) The Bruins zoned in, and looked good doing it

UCLA played extensive zone for the first time this season and was fairly successful in doing so.

The 2-3 zone seemed to stifle Penn, which wasn't prepared to see it and had a tough time adjusting. They were forced to shoot long range shots, taking 31 of their 58 shots from behind the three-point line. They shot only 39.4 percent in the second half, when UCLA played mostly zone.

Penn's leading scorer for the season, Zack Rosen, scored only eight points on three of 12 shooting, including 0-7 on three pointers. Tyler Bernardini had a career night by setting a career high in three-pointers made (8) and points (29), but the rest of the team shot 37 percent for the game and four of 19 on three-pointers.

"I think it gave the offense something to change it up a little bit, something for them to try and work through and switch up their offense," David Wear said. "I think we could be a really good zone defensive team. We had some breakdowns but we’ve only been working on it for a week now."

Howland is generally against using zone defenses, preferring a tough man-to-man style, but realizes that his roster is filled with big slow-footed players and is resigned t the fact that a zone better suits the team. He said the Bruins will implement more zone as the season goes on, switching back and forth depending on the personnel on the floor.

"It’s not my preference, but I think it’s what’s fitting our team right now," Howland said. "We’re going to need to use it. We’re going to have to be a team that plays both man and zone."

3) The Bruins Road show completed its rotation

The Honda Center is the third different home arena UCLA is playing at this season during the makeover of Pauley Pavilion, so completing the circle is kind of a relief for the Bruins, who no longer have to fret about an unfamiliar home floor.

Though it's not exactly uncharted territory. The Bruins have played the annual Wooden Classic at the Honda Center since 1994 and are now 13-4 in the building. It gives Howland good vibes to play at the Honda Center because Wooden used to attend the games there before his death in 2010.

"My first seven years coach was here at every one of the games we played here," Howland said. "Those are always going to be special memories for me and I always think of coach whenever we come here so I enjoy coming here."

Now that they have played at all of their home arenas, the Bruins are finally starting to get used to the road show concept.

"I don’t think we even notice it that much anymore," David Wear said. I think we established at the beginning of the season that this is our team. The people on this team, this is our family and we always have each other’s back no matter who is in the crowd or how many people are in the crowd. Going forward I don’t really see it being a factor at all."

4) The Bruins held on down the stretch

This was UCLA's first game this season to end with a single-digit margin of victory. UCLA had a 68-55 lead with 5:52 to play, but Penn closed to 75-70 with 1:55 to go.

The Bruins made several key defensive plays, including a block five rows deep into the crowd by Jerime Anderson, and showed character and resolve to hold off Penn's run. Early this season, the Bruins struggled against mid-major opponents Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee, so to pull off the victory in this game was important.

"It was important for us to win a close game and our guys made some big plays down the stretch," Howland said. "Penn is not an easy team. They’re a very well-coached team they have seniors that are very good players so this was a good win for us and a step in the right direction."

5) Norman Powell recovered from his allergy scare

Powell spent Wednesday night in a hospital after eating a shrimp and walnut dish and suffering an allergic reaction. He played only 12 minutes Saturday, but looked plenty healthy while on the floor. He made two of two shots--both three-pointers-- and had two rebounds.

"I’ve got to continue to use Norman Powell more," Howland said. "He played 12 and he played good so we’ve got to keep giving him some minutes."

Powell will be tested this week to figure out the exact cause of his allergic reaction, but first must take a final exam that he missed while in the hospital.

Jones, Smith and backup center Anthony Stover all left the Honda Center with minor injuries. Stover sprained his ankle, Smith tweaked his knee and Jones pulled a groin muscle. UCLA plays again Wednesday, the wounded have some time to recover.

Click on boxscore to enlarge (from Yahoo!Sports)

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