LOS ANGELES -- UCLA bounced back from its disappointing weekend in Oregon with one of its most dominant performances of the season in a 76-49 Pac-12 victory over Utah on Thursday night at the Sports Arena.
The Bruins (11-9, 4-4 Pac-12) raced to 36-21 halftime lead and unlike Saturday at Oregon, where they blew a 13-point halftime lead, the Bruins finished the job and evened their record in conference play.
"What I said to my team at halftime, I told them two words," senior guard Jerime Anderson said. "One was something I can’t say right now and the other was Oregon. I just said, ‘Man, we cannot let this happen again.’ If we have a lead like that we should be able to control the lead and come out with the win."
UCLA began the second half with a 6-2 run, expanded the lead to 20 points four minutes into the half and led by as many as 35 before coach Ben Howland cleared the bench and got all the walk-ons in the game.
"I talked about the first five minutes of the second half being huge and our intensity level," Howland said. "We have a 15-point lead and have to build on that right away and set the tone in the second half."
Five observations from the game:
1Joshua Smith emerged from the doldrums
Smith had a poor performance on the Oregon trip last week, but rebounded nicely with a dominant performance Thursday night. He finished with a game-high 14 points on 5-fot-6 shooting and added five rebounds in his 18 minutes.
"Just giving more effort," Smith said. "The Oregons I didn’t play my best. Coach just told us when you go out there you have to play as hard as you can. Whatever you do you have to give it your all until you come out and that’s what I was really trying to do is focus on playing as hard as I could until a sub came in."
It was a far cry from his lethargic games at Oregon State and Oregon, where he had 16 points, six rebounds and seven personal fouls in 31 combined minutes over the two games. But most of all, his body language and energy level was noticeably better.
"I thought he was motivated after last weekend and he played well tonight and was a difference maker for us," Howland said.
2Jerime Anderson was another difference maker
Anderson looked as comfortable as he has all season running the offense and played with precision and efficiency. He scored 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting and had three assists and three steals as he kept the UCLA offense running smoothly.
"Jerime played one of the best games of his career today," Howland said. "He really played solid and really controlled things for us out there for us."
Anderson made 2-of-3 3-point shots and had only one turnover for the game. Anderson said he just tried not to force anything.
"I just thought I just took what they gave me," he said. "My teammates found me at open spots and I just tried to take open shots and just get the ball to the right guy and that was pretty much it."
3The Bruins shared the ball nicely
The shot distribution for UCLA was as balanced as it has been all season. Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb led the team with seven shots each while Smith, Anderson, Lazeric Jones, David Wear and Travis Wear each had six shot attempts.
"We were playing very unselfish and sharing the ball," Howland said.
It was a departure from the last few games when Jones had been taking the Lion's share shots. He had 16 attempts at Oregon, 17 at Oregon State and had averaged 14 attempts over the last five games, but was shooting only 37 percent over that span.
UCLA shot a season-high 58.7 percent as a team, including 73.7 percent in the second half and Jones had six assists and a team-leading six rebounds to go along with his seven points.
"It just goes to show you that Zeek is not playing for Zeek, Zeek is playing for UCLA," Howland said. "He did a great job sharing the ball. He was really being unselfish. He’s our captain, he’s our leader."
4Howland unveiled the twin-tower lineup
Smith and Anthony Stover, both 6-foot-10 centers, were on the floor at the same time for the first time this season. Normally Stover backs up Smith, but Howland experimented by pulling out both of the Wear twins and putting the two big men in at the same time.
"That won’t be something that we’ll be going to a lot I don’t think," Howland said. "I didn’t want to bring the Wears back in because we needed to keep their minutes down getting ready for Saturday’s game and not playing them more than they have to."
The move caught the big men by surprise. Howland sent Smith in for Travis Wear, but Stover came trotting off the floor. When Smith told Stover to stay out there, Stover put his palms face up and had a confused look.
"With me and him in there is was fun," Smith said.
5There is still skepticism surrounding this team
This was a nice bounce-back victory for UCLA, but it was also a bit of a scheduling break to play Utah (5-15, 2-6) after such a tough road trip. The Utes are among the worst teams in the conference and recently dismissed leading scorer Josh Watkins from the team.
The Bruins still have only one or two wins that could be considered wins of note -- Arizona and Richmond -- and even those are iffy.
UCLA's victories have come against opponents that are a combined 75-122. Meanwhile, the Bruins' losses have come against teams that are a combined 136-47. So basically, UCLA has beaten bad teams and lost to good teams.
Penn (10-9), Richmond (12-9) and Arizona (14-7) are UCLA's only victories over teams with winning records, so Saturday's game against Colorado (14-6, 6-2) will tell far more about whether the Bruins have bounced back from their tough road trip or if they are simply destined to be a middle-of-the-road team in a middle-of-the-road conference this season.
"We just need to come out and have the same effort as we had tonight," David Wear said. "I think if we just play 40 minutes of complete high-pressure defense and we play smart offensively and make good decisions like we did tonight and we come out with better intensity in the second half, that will get us on the right track."
Anderson said he hopes the team is, indeed, on that track.
"We played inspired tonight," he said. "We played with some fire under our belly just because we’re coming off the weekend that we had and we had to bounce back. When our back is against the wall, our team has a lot of heart and we can show it if we just go out and play hard and have the intensity that we’re supposed to have."