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:
1The 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.
2The 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."
3The 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."
4The 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."
5Norman 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.