LOS ANGELES—The old Ben Ball returned to Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday night.
For at least one night, the scrappy, defense-minded style that made Bruins coach Ben Howland famous replaced the up-tempo transition game the Bruins are trying to employ this season and the good news is the Bruins haven’t forgotten how to play it.
UCLA defeated Pacific, 57-44, and advanced to play Villanova in the NIT Season Tip-off semifinals next Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York by holding Pacific to 25 percent shooting on a night when the up-tempo offense sputtered in part because the Bruins were playing for the second consecutive night.
UCLA had averaged 81 points in its first two games, but scored only 17 in the second half Tuesday night.
“I was really, really excited about our defense,” Howland said. “We held them to 25 percent, what more can you say. This is a team that executes as well as anybody you’ll see.”
Howland said he changed the defensive approach, having his guards fight through screens instead of getting big men to hedge, and it paid off. The Bruins created only seven turnovers, but Pacific had only four assists.
Starting guard Malcolm Lee was out because of a sprained ankle and centers Josh Smith and Anthony Stover got into early foul trouble, further taxing the Bruins’ already short roster. Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson each played 37 minutes—a lot for any game, let alone the second of back-to-back nights.
And the fatigue showed in the second half. Nelson had 21 points and 14 rebounds and Honeycutt had 15 points and 15 rebounds, but they combined for only six points in the second half.
UCLA led, 40-24 at halftime, but Pacific cut it to 47-38 with 7:24 to play. The Bruins then held Pacific to only two field goals the rest of the game, a defensive performance that eased, at least for now, preseason concerns about the Bruins' ability to win when their offense isn’t there.
“It’s very comforting,” said point guard Lazeric Jones. “We always come to games thinking that defense is going to win the game anyway. Today it just showed a little more because the offense got a little sloppy in the second half. Luckily, our defense, which is our stamp, came through in the end.”