Wednesday, December 21, 2011

UCLA growing stronger, crushes UC Irvine 89-60, breaks .500

UCLA's Norman Powell dunks past UC Irvine's Chris McNealy during the Bruins' 89-60 victory over the Anteaters Tuesday at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Powell had a career-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Photo: KEVIN SULLIVAN, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

UCLA growing stronger, crushes UC Irvine

Published: Dec. 20, 2011 Updated: 11:11 p.m.

LOS ANGELES – There are a number of reasons for UCLA's recent turnaround.

Bruin point guard Lazeric Jones regaining his confidence.

Sophomore guard Tyler Lamb getting healthy.

The emergence of freshman Norman Powell.

But as UCLA rolled up its fourth consecutive victory by rolling over UC Irvine 89-60 at the Sports Arena on Tuesday night, the dismissal of all-conference forward Reeves Nelson was a major factor in the Bruins' re-emergence as a contender for the Pac-12 title after a 2-5 start.

"That's why I removed Reeves," Howland said. "It has improved chemistry. Just being honest."

The Bruins winning streak started the day after Howland finally sent the petulant Nelson packing for good December 9. Call it addition by subtraction.

"Our guys are really coming together," Howland said after a game in which the Bruins had five players in double figures. "We've got good chemistry."

It also helps that Powell, slowed earlier in the season by a knee injury and then hospitalized by an allergic reaction, is playing a larger role in the mix.

Tuesday night Powell turned the Anteaters inside out, hitting 4-of-6 3-point attempts, and slamming home a Lamb lob en route to a game and season-high 19 points. Powell also added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.

"I feel like every day I'm improving," Powell said.

So is Lamb (Mater Dei High), thanks to a procedure that drained fluid off his hip last week.

A full strength, Lamb posted a career-high 17 points in addition to three assists and four steals.

"I feel way more explosive," Lamb said.

The Bruins are also finding that its easier to soar when you've dropped unnecessary baggage.

"We feel really close," Lamb said. "With out team going through so much adversity it's brought us close and I think you can see it on the court.


UCLA over .500 after crushing UC Irvine, 89-60

Bruins win their fourth in a row and Coach Ben Howland says they are coming together.

By Baxter Holmes
The Times of Los Angeles
10:52 PM PST, December 20, 2011

From beneath a self-inflicted avalanche of embarrassment, UCLA has risen.

Above .500, that is.

UCLA improved to 6-5 with an 89-60 win against UC Irvine on Tuesday before 4,090 at the Sports Arena, marking the first time this season its win column had more notches than its loss column.

The Bruins have won four in a row — all against relatively creampuff competition: Pennsylvania, Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Irvine, which fell to 2-9 and has lost three straight.

Still, any win looks good for UCLA after its disastrous start, when it lost four of its first five by double digits. That said, there's little doubt the Bruins are night-and-day different from that team.

"Guys are really coming together," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

Is it because volatile forward Reeves Nelson was dismissed Dec. 9?

"That's the reason why I removed Reeves," Howland said. "It has improved our chemistry."

The Bruins have one final nonconference tune-up — against Richmond on Friday — before Pac-12 play begins next week.

UCLA was the media's preseason pick to win the Pac-12, an estimation that looked way off weeks ago but could be closer to reality as the league appears wide open (read: awful) and UCLA has improved all-around.

One such area is the Bruins' guard play, which was overshadowed in the preseason by their allegedly-dominant front line but has emerged in the last two blowout wins, specifically Tuesday.

"UC Irvine focused so much on our frontcourt that we were able to get open shots," explained guard Tyler Lamb, who scored a career-high 17 points.

UCLA responded by shooting a season-high 54.8% overall and making nine of 18 three-point shots. Freshman guard Norman Powell made four three-pointers and scored a career-high 19.

Powell also grabbed seven rebounds and has snagged 17 boards in the last two games after recording only 12 combined in his first nine.

"Norman is getting better and better," Howland said. "That is what we expected from him."

Behind the trio of Powell, Lamb and Lazeric Jones, who scored 11, UCLA led as much as 17 in the first half.

That lead stretched to 20 with Powell's two-handed dunk off a Lamb alley-oop pass early in the second half.

"We've been working on that all week in practice," said a smiling Powell.

After that, Irvine, which was led in scoring by Chris McNealy's 11 points, caved, and the Bruins' lead eventually fattened to 34. In all, five UCLA players scored in double figures.

"That's exactly what we want," Howland said. "That's beautiful."

Center Joshua Smith had his second straight strong showing, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a season-high-tying 22 minutes.

Travis Wear returned from a two-game absence because of a skin infection on his left foot to score six points and grab six rebounds.


UCLA men's basketball extends winning streak to four, defeats UC Irvine 89-60

The Daily Bruin in Men's BasketballSports
Published December 20, 2011, 11:23 pm

UCLA’s changing of the two-guard was a rough one. With sophomore Tyler Lamb too hurt and freshman Norman Powell too green, the Bruins couldn’t replicate the production lost when Malcolm Lee declared for the NBA draft.

To solve their early-season struggles, UCLA’s pair of shooting guards looked to each other. Eleven games into the season, Lamb and Powell look like they’ve found their comfort level. Each set career-highs in scoring in UCLA’s 89-60 win over UC Irvine at the Sports Arena on Tuesday night, which moved the Bruins (6-5) to above .500 for the first time all season.

After the game, Powell and Lamb took turns crediting each other.

“I feel like every day I’m improving,” said Powell, who had a well-rounded stat line of 19 points (a game-high), seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. “In practice going against Tyler Lamb, he’s going to make me work. He gives me his information and input on how his freshman year went.”

“Norman has so much potential,” said Lamb, who had 17 points. “He’s learning more and more every day. He works very hard, he listens. That’s going to help him a lot. I think he’s going to be a very, very good player.”

They’ve remained connected during games, with spectacular results. For the second straight game, Powell caught an alley-oop from Lamb and finished with a two-handed dunk, the highlight of Powell’s best performance this year.

“We’ve been working on that all week in practice,” Powell said with a grin. “The pass from Lamb, you know, perfect pass. That’s two games in a row now he’s hit me with the lob, so I was pretty excited.”

The Anteaters (2-9) kept up early, but sagged off UCLA’s guards and put extra pressure on the tall front line. That left plenty of wide open shots for the Bruins, who shot 55 percent for the game and had five players in double-digit scoring for the second time this season.

With the offense flowing, Lamb and Powell both had the green light to shoot. Lamb finished 7-of-13 shooting with two 3-pointers, while Powell was 6-of-11 and made four 3-pointers.

Powell was far from error-free, a few miscues on both ends of the floor scattered throughout an impressive night, but didn’t get the quick hook from his coach.

“We’ve had a lot of players here that have improved a lot each and every year they’re here because they work hard and they’re coachable – he’s like that,” coach Ben Howland said of Powell.

“He made a mistake the first time he came in today. He was supposed to be helping … (and) he knew it. Sense of urgency, that’s what I want his mantra to be. Playing with a sense of urgency. When he does that, he can be really good, as you can see (today).”

Lamb has improved health to thank for his turnaround. Two weeks ago, he chose to seek medical attention after playing through an injured hip at “60 percent” capacity. After undergoing a procedure to reduce the inflammation, he said he’s back at full strength.

The rapport between Powell and Lamb is a small sample of what the Bruins are saying is improved team chemistry overall. After a horrific start to the year culminating in Reeves Nelson’s dismissal, the Bruins have rolled off four straight wins and are building momentum with one game left before Pac-12 play begins.

Asked if Nelson’s absence was the catalyst for change, Howland was blunt.

“That’s the reason why I removed Reeves. It has improved our chemistry. Just being positive. That’s the bottom line. I’m being honest and telling you the truth, yes.”


Five observations: UCLA 89, UC Irvine 60

By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report
December, 20, 2011 11:30 PM PT

LOS ANGELES--UCLA's upward trend continued Tuesday night when the Bruins turned in another dominant performance and posted an 89-60 victory over UC Irvine at the Sports Arena.

It was the fourth consecutive victory for UCLA (6-5) which got above .500 for the first time this season and has outscored its last three opponents, 231-146, and is beginning to shake off a 1-4 start that featured embarrassing losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State.

Freshman guard Norman Powell had a breakout performance with a career-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Sophomore Tyler Lamb also continued to break out of his early-season slump and scored a career-best 17 points with three assists and a career-high four steals.

David Wear added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bruins, who had five players score in double figures and shot a season-best 54.8 percent from the field. The Bruins have shot 53.7 percent over the last two games.

Five observations from the game:

1) Dismissing Reeves Nelson has improved team chemistry

It seemed like a risky move for Ben Howland to dismiss an all-conference player from the team, but the Bruins are now 4-0 since Reeves Nelson last played and seems to be getting better and better each game they are further removed from the Nelson era.

They are playing as a more cohesive unit and seem to be enjoying themselves much more on the court.

"I think that’s the reason I removed Reeves," Howland said. "It has improved our chemistry and being positive. That’s the bottom line, I’m just being honest and telling truth."

Nelson was clearly an asset at times as he led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, but his poor attitude had poisoned the team early on this season and led to unproductive practices and games that simply were not fun to play.

"Our guys are really coming together," Howland said. "You can see that there is good chemistry with this team right now, Guys are really pulling for each other. That’s fun."

2) Norman Powell began to deliver on his potential

Powell has sprinkled signs of his tremendous ability throughout the early season, but Tuesday night he finally put it all together. He made four of six three-point shots, had a couple of athletic dunks and an acrobatic reverse layup that made you take notice.

His 19-point, seven-rebound game followed an eight-point, 10-rebound game on Saturday and probably earned Powell more minutes going forward.

"Norman is getting better and better and that’s what we expected," Howland said. "With more opportunity he’s growing. He still makes freshman mistakes but he’s definitely improving and we need him. We need him to keep playing how he’s playing."

Powell credited his improved play to getting used to the college level and committing to defense.

"My game tonight was basically being aggressive on defense," he said. "Trying my best on defense. Coach always says your defense brings offense."

3) Tyler Lamb is finally healthy

UCLA's Tyler Lamb celebrates a dunk during the second half of the Bruins' 89-60 victory over UC Irvine Tuesday at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Photo: KEVIN SULLIVAN, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Lamb was one of the early-season disappointments for the Bruins as he tried to play through bursitis in his hip that was causing tremendous pain.

He had the hip drained of fluid and has been a different player ever since. His 17-point, four-steal game Tuesday came one game after he put up nine points, nine rebounds and seven assists against UC Davis and 14 points against Eastern Washington.

"I feel way more explosive," Lamb said. "I feel like I’m 100 percent right now and hopefully I can feel like that the rest of the season. I felt like I was playing 60 percent and to be able to feel like this and play like this, I’m very thankful."

It's helped him on the defensive end as well. Lamb is supposed to be the team's defensive stopper this season, but he was a step slow early on and his man was routinely having big games. That's not the case any more.

"Tyler Lamb is really playing well for us right now," Howland said. "He’s had three games in a row he’s put together--at least three--where his stats don’t even indicate what he’s doing because he’s always guarding the other team’s best player."

4) Three-point shooting is becoming a weapon

UC Irvine started out playing a zone defense and doubling down on the post, but the UCLA shooters thwarted that effort. UCLA made nine of 18 three-point shots and have made 26 of 62
(41.9 percent) during their four-game win streak.

"When we take good open three-pointers, I think we’re going to be a good three-point shooting team," Howland said.

Point guard Lazeric Jones, who had 11 points and six assists, said the key to the outside shooting is the big men being able to pass out of the double teams. Joshua Smith, Travis Wear and David Wear each had assists Tuesday night.

"When guys are doubling down on our bigs like that we’ve got to be able to knock down shots," Jones said. "Our bigs are good passers so when they get it out to us, we have to reward them."

5) The Bruins aren't just winning, they're winning big

With an average margin of victory of 33 points over the last three games, UCLA is clearly playing at a high level, even if the level of competition has been a bit suspect.

Good teams put the beat down on teams that are rebuilding such as UC Irvine and UC Davis and that's exactly what UCLA has done, so perhaps the Bruins are finally starting to develop into a good team.

"You’ve got to win games to learn how to win games and I feel like we’re starting to learn how to win a little bit," Jones said. "I don’t think we’re there yet, but you can see some things are starting to happen."

Those early losses to LMU and Middle Tennessee were supposed to go this way, but when they turned into losses, the Bruins realized that things weren't going to be easy this season.

"No team likes losing and the way we were losing early this season against teams we thought we should beat, we got embarrassed," said Smith, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. "It feels good to kind of flip the script a little bit. It's a lot more fun and now we just have to keep this going."

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