LOS ANGELES -- Some wins mean more than others.
UCLA coach Ben Howland will tell you that every win is equally important, but his body language and enthusiasm said something different after the Bruins defeated Colorado in convincing fashion, 77-60, Saturday in a Pac-12 game at the Sports Arena.
This victory meant more simply because it came against a team that was tied for first in the Pac-12 and it helped erase doubts that UCLA could, in fact, pull out a victory against an upper-tier conference team. UCLA's last three wins had come against conference cellar-dwellers Utah, USC and Arizona State, but the Bruins (12-9, 5-4) stayed afloat in the conference race with the victory over Colorado (14-7, 6-3).
"I was very enthused," Howland said. "I knew this was a big game for us to get us back above .500 in the conference against a good Colorado team that has been playing extremely well. That was a very solid win for us against a very good team."
Five observations from the game:
1The Bruins turned up the defense in the second half
UCLA held a slim, 40-36 halftime lead, but ran away from the Buffaloes in the second half thanks to a defense that held Colorado to 34.8 percent shooting from the field after the break. Colorado had shot 55.6 percent in the first half, but went a stretch of nearly nine minutes midway through the second half with only one field goal as the Bruins took a 69-50 lead with 5:25 to play.
"I think our defensive intensity picked up in the second half which was nice because there’s been a couple of times this year when our defensive intensity has dipped off in the second half," forward David Wear said. "So it was good to come out with that intensity, really talking on defense and getting into our rotations and not allowing any second shots."
The Bruins had 10 steals in the game with six of those coming in the first 10 minutes of the second half as the Bruins set the defensive tone after coming out of the locker room by getting their hands in the passing lanes, making it difficult for Colorado to in-bound the ball and forcing the Buffaloes to use up most of the shot clock.
"We just did a better job buckling down," Howland said.
2UCLA's offense was very efficient
The Bruins were a well-oiled machine on offense, shooting a season-best 59.6 percent from the field for the game and getting 26 assists with only 12 turnovers. And this against the team that entered the game holding opponents to a Pac-12 leading 38.8 percent shooting.
UCLA had four players reach double figures in scoring -- Lazeric Jones with 17, Travis Wear with 14, Tyler Lamb with 13 and David Wear with 11 -- while Jerime Anderson and Joshua Smith each had eight.
The 26 assists were a season high and the most for UCLA since Dec. 31, 2006, against Washington.
"I thought we were really making the extra pass," Howland said. "It was so exciting and fun to watch. That’s how basketball is meant to be played and I love that our players get joy out of making the pass that leads to the play."
It was the second consecutive game that the Bruins set a season best in field goal percentage and the fifth time in six games that the Bruins have shot over 50 percent. They are now shooting 50.4 percent in Pac-12 games -- second in the conference. Over the last seven games, UCLA is shooting 52.5 percent.
"We’re executing better and better as the season progresses," Howland said. "We really went back to work on it after the first road trip in conference."
3Tyler Lamb is officially out of his slump
Lamb had one of the best all-around games of his career with 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals all the while holding Colorado leading scorer Carlon Brown to only six points.
He was 5-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers and is ready to put behind a rough two-week stretch in which he went 4-for-18 against USC, Oregon State and Oregon.
"I thought Tyler Lamb did a tremendous, awesome job today," Howland said. "He had one of his best games as a Bruin because it was an all around game."
Lamb credited his teammates and family for helping him get through his rough stretch.
"My teammates kept it positive," he said. "They just always said keep playing hard, keep shooting. They didn’t lose any trust in me and my family helped me a lot. Everybody played a big role in getting me out of that slump and it’s been great."
Lamb, who had 10 points, four assists and three steals on 4-for-7 shooting Thursday against Utah, said the key was to slow down on the court.
"I think I was rushing," Lamb said. "I can tell when I let the game come to me and I can tell when I’m pressing. I think when I was in the slump, I was looking to press more and hurry up and get myself out of it but as of late I’ve just been letting the game come to me and take what’s given and it’s worked for me."
4Three-point shooting was an effective weapon
The Bruins made 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) of their 3-pointers, many of them coming at key junctures to stop Colorado runs. Lamb and Norman Powell hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give UCLA a 40-36 halftime lead after Colorado had taken a 35-34 lead with 1:36 left in the half.
Colorado made a last-ditch comeback effort and closed a 66-49 UCLA lead to 69-56 with 4:13 to play, but Lamb and David Wear made 3-pointers to seal the UCLA victory.
"I thought we were patient," Jones said. "We made good decisions and that’s basically it. When we're driving and penetrating to pass and to set each other up, things open up a lot."
UCLA is not known as a particularly good 3-point shooting team, so it's surprising to note that the Bruins are leading the Pac-12 in 3-point field goal percentage at 44 percent in conference games. They were shooting only 30 percent when the season began, but have become more efficient.
Against Utah and Colorado, the Bruins were a combined 18 of 29 (62 percent) on three-pointers. Howland credited better shot selection.
"I like our ratio of how many threes we’re taking versus how many shots we’re taking overall," Howland said. "Part of it is we’re not taking as many. We were taking too many early in the season."
5The Sports Arena came alive
For the first time at the Sports Arena, it felt as if UCLA had a home-court advantage. Attendance on Saturday was announced at 9,253 -- a season high even including games at the Honda Center.
Before Saturday, the Sports Arena had felt dull with an average announced attendance of 4,640, but an actual attendance that was far lower than that. When that crowd size doubled Saturday, the building finally had some energy and even got loud at times.
"Our players were very enthused by the support of our fans and the students today," Howland said. "That was nice."
Jones said the crowd played a role in the victory.
"Our fans came out and really supported us," he said. "We fed off of it a little bit. They felt when we were getting runs. They really helped us."