UCLA nearly collapses, wins, 62-57

CORVALLIS, Ore.--It wasn't exactly the way Coach Ben Howland would have drawn it up, but UCLA came managed to sweat out a 62-57 victory Thursday at Oregon State.

It was the first road victory of the year for the Bruins (10-6, 2-2 in Pac-10), who let a 17-point second-half lead slip away before rallying in the waning moments.

Oregon State, which trailed, 47-30, with 15:57 to play, took a 57-55 lead with 2:43 to go. Joshua Smith tied it with a pair of free throws and Lazeric Jones made a jump shot from the top of the key to give UCLA a 59-57 lead with 43 seconds to play.

Smith then iced the game by making a pair of free throws with 16 seconds to play.

It wasn't pretty, but the UCLA defense stepped up when it needed to, holding Oregon State scoreless for the final 2:43 to snap a five-game road losing streak.

Five observations from the game:

1The Bruins showed the ability to overcome adversity.

Let's face it, everybody in the building figured the Bruins would crumble as soon as Oregon State took the lead. UCLA, plagued by youth and a lack of leadership, has not responded well to those types of situations this season.

But this victory, no matter how ugly, may actually be a turning point for a team that has no seniors and starts two sophomores and a freshman.

"It’s huge," Howland said. "Can you imagine how we’d feel if we were sitting here talking about the loss after being up 17? I hope we can look back at the end of the season and say this was a turning point. That would be great."

2It shouldn't have been that close.

UCLA continued a season-long trend of failing to put teams away. The Bruins lack a killer instinct and that became readily apparent during a horrid stretch of the second half.

After taking a 47-30 lead, UCLA scored only four points over the next 10 minutes, 35 seconds. They committed five turnovers during that stretch and went 0-4 from the free throw line. It's no surprise Oregon State took the lead.

"They just out-hustled us," Jones said. "They started wanting it more than we did. We got them down and we started letting up, so we have to make sure we don’t do that. It’s always good to get a road win, but we need to make sure we do a better job of getting teams down and keeping them down."

3Joshua Smith really grew up this week.

First, Howland admonished Smith to the media for his comments about the officiating during the USC game, then the Pac-10 officially reprimanded him for the same comments--telling him he could face a suspension if he publicly criticizes officials again.

Smith then found himself at the free throw line Thursday with the game on the line. He stayed calm when the outside distractions could have hurt, and--a 55.6% free throw shooter heading into the game--made those clutch free throws.

"That was phenomenal," Howland said. "He stepped up and made four huge free throws. His free throw shooting has been up and down. He’s been working at it and he showed great focus and concentration on those free throws. I can’t be more pleased."

4Malcolm Lee filled the stopper role well

Lee, who is assigned to guard the opposing team's best player almost every game, really did a number on Oregon State leading scorer Jared Cunningham. Lee held Cunningham to five points on 1 of nine shooting. Cunningham, who was averaging 14.6 points entering the game, did not make a field goal until his three-pointer with 4:24 to play.

"I knew he was an athletic player and capable of shooting the three," Lee said. "I was thinking in my mind that he wanted to drive me every time so I just tried to cut off the angles and keep him on one side of the floor."

Howland was pleased with Lee's effort.

"He really took on the challenge and did a wonderful job as he’s done all year of guarding their team’s best player," Howland said.

5Lazeric Jones figured out the finger thing

Jones, who ruptured a tendon in his finger Dec. 31 against Washington and had been 0-10 from the field over the last two games, taped it differently Thursday so that the pad of his finger would be exposed to be able to feel the seams of the ball.

He made four of nine shots and four of four free throws. No shot was bigger than the one he hit from just inside the three-point line that gave the Bruins a 59-57 lead with 43 seconds to play.

"We were trying to run one play and everybody started scrambling and I looked up at the clock and saw there was only a couple of seconds left," Jones said of the key shot. "It was in the heat of the moment. I just tried to make a move and get the shot up."

Jones, who made three of his first four shots, including five points during UCLA's 15-5 run to start the game, said it was important for him to get off to a good start.

"It was just about confidence and getting my mind away from the finger," he said. "I knew that if I made a shot it would all come back."