Late-game heroics weren’t necessary Saturday.
After leading Washington State by only three points at halftime, UCLA pulled away with an 18-6 run to open the second half and never looked back, eventually winning 74-62 in a Pacific 10 Conference game to pull off a sweep of the Washington schools.
“Our team has to play exactly how we’re playing right now to continue forward and have success,” coach Ben Howland said.
Said guard Malcolm Lee: “This is a confidence builder. We’re going to build on this.”
The Bruins had not played with a large lead this season, so it was unclear how they would handle it. But UCLA (9-10, 4-3) looked comfortable and responded well -- its big lead never shrinking below seven.
“We just had to stay focused,” Lee said. “Teams can lose their mind-set when you’ve got a big lead. I was just telling my teammates that the game wasn’t over.”
The Bruins were shooting 61 percent from the free-throw line heading into Saturday, so with five minutes left and Washington State trailing by 13, coach Ken Bone opted to start fouling.
"It was hard to make a run against them," Bone said. "UCLA just did a good job on both the offensive and defensive ends."
UCLA made 10 of 18 free throws in the final five minutes -- something that didn't please Howland.
“We’re going to have to get better to close out games at the foul line,” Howland said.
Before then, the Bruins had started to consistently feed the ball into freshman forward Reeves Nelson, who took only two shots in the first half. The strategy paid off as Nelson went on to lead UCLA with 19 points.
“Coach is always telling the guards to get the ball inside just because it’s hard for people to guard me one-on-one,” Nelson said. “I’m either going to get a good shot or kick it out for an open shot.”
Nelson went to the line 10 times in the second half and made seven of 12 for the game.
“When Reeves is on the blocks, he’s just a beast,” Lee said. “We just tried to isolate him and it worked.”
Meanwhile, Pac-10 leading scorer Klay Thompson followed up a poor-shooting first half (two of eight) with a meager three-for-nine performance in the second for the Cougars (14-6, 4-4). The UCLA student section relentlessly serenaded the nation’s third-leading scorer with chants of “air ball” after a badly missed shot early.
In the end, everything line up well for the Bruins, who won their first Saturday game this season (now 1-5). UCLA had lost to Arizona and Stanford on Saturdays after defeating Arizona State and California, respectively.
Nelson said he told the team before the game that they needed “to be done with this one-and-one stuff and start closing out weekends.”
“I guess we took that to heart,” he said.