Five observations: UCLA 72, Stanford 61

UCLA guard Lazeric Jones scored a game-high 21 points to lift the Bruins over Stanford on Thursday. Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA finally seems to have learned how to hold on to a lead.

After building a reputation this season for letting leads slip away late in games, the Bruins withstood a late-game charge for the second consecutive game and defeated Stanford, 72-61, in a Pac-12 Conference game Thursday night at the Sports Arena.

Despite making only 9-of-16 free throws in the final 1:52, UCLA (14-10, 7-5) held off Stanford (16-8, 6-6), which had pulled to within three points at 56-53 with 4:45 to play. It was the fourth win in five games for UCLA, which also held off a late run in a 63-60 victory Saturday at Washington State. UCLA has now won 10 consecutive home games including six in a row at the Sports Arena.

"I was proud of our poise," coach Ben Howland said. "I was pleased with the poise that we showed when they made a comeback and made a run and fought our way through it."

The Bruins broke a sixth-place tie in the conference standings and are now two games behind leaders Washington and California with a game Saturday at 1 p.m. against California at the Sports Arena.

Five observations from the game:

1Lazeric Jones wasn't going to let it get away again

Jones scored a game-high 21 points to go along with six assists and six steals, more than making amends for his final-second decision that cost UCLA the game last time UCLA played Stanford.

In that 60-59 loss, Jones drove to the basket and tried to penetrate, but had his shot blocked at the buzzer instead of finding a wide open Tyler Lamb or stopping for a jump shot. Thursday, he played the entire game as if he were on a mission to make up for that play.

"We were upset that we got that loss up there," Jones said.

Jones basically won the game in a stretch of about a minute and a half when he made a 3-pointer with 3:35 to play after Stanford had pulled to within three at 56-53. On the next possession he hit Jerime Anderson for a jump shot with 2:44 to play and then scored on a layup on the next UCLA possession as the Bruins opened a 63-53 lead. He got a steal on the other end of the court and Anderson made one of two free throws after getting fouls and UCLA had a 64-53 lead with 1:52 to play.

He also made the highlight play of the night, taking a tipped pass at mid court and making a behind-the-back pass to Anderson for a slam dunk that gave UCLA a 46-36 lead.

"Zeek is our captain," Howland said. "He's really stepped up and he played great tonight."

2The Bruins tightened up the defense when it mattered most

After Stanford had cut the UCLA lead to 56-53 with 4:45 to play, the Bruins hunkered down on defense. They created a five-second violation on an in-bonds play out of a timeout followed by a nice piece of post defense by David Wear against Josh Owens and then steals by Lamb and Jones.

Those defensive stops turned into eight UCLA points and by the time it was over, the Bruins had a 64-53 lead with 1:52 to play and Stanford was forced to foul. It was a marked defensive improvement for the Bruins, who played strictly man-to-man Thursday. The last time UCLA played Stanford, the Bruins had to use a zone because their man-to-man was ineffective against the Cardinal.

"That was big for us," Howland said. "We dug in and our defense has improved. I'm real pleased with the improvement this team is showing on the defensive end."

UCLA had a season-high 15 steals with Jones leading the way and Lamb snatching four, and the Bruins also had 11 blocked shots -- one shy of their season high. Anthony Stover and Travis Wear had three blocks apiece.

3The Bruins continually answered Stanford's runs

UCLA opened a 16-point lead in the first half, but Stanford cut that to eight. The Bruins then pushed it back to 14, but Stanford trimmed it to 37-34 early in the second half.

UCLA got big shots from Travis Wear, Jones and the Anderson dunk off the behind-the-back pass from Jones to forge another double-digit lead at 46-36. Stanford again closed to within three, but Jones then took over and the Bruins made enough free throws down the stretch to hold on.

"We grew from this game because they hit us with a couple of punches and we hit them with a couple back," Anderson said. "That's what we've got to do. Teams are not going to just fold ever. We have to be able to take those hits and keep rolling and keep playing good basketball."

4The Bruins again struggled against a zone defense

After falling apart down the stretch last week when Washington switched to a zone, the Bruins again appeared to have trouble when Stanford came out in a zone for the second half.

UCLA had a season-high 19 turnovers Thursday, 11 of those coming in the second half as Stanford continually picked off entry passes from guards. Jones and Anderson each had five turnovers. Coming in to the game, UCLA was averaging a conference-low 11.3 turnovers

"It was uncharacteristic of how we've been playing," Howland said. "We were way too loose with the ball. We've got to take better care of the basketball."

Part of the issue was that Joshua Smith, UCLA's 6-10 zone-busting center, was in foul trouble all game. He picked up two fouls early then a third when Howland gambled and put him back in at the end of the first half. Referees whistled him for his fourth foul -- all of them offensive -- with 16:15 to play and Smith, who averaged 21.5 points and 24 minutes last weekend in Washington, played only 13 minutes and had seven points and seven rebounds.

"He got into foul trouble and that's a problem," Howland said. "That definitely hurts us because Josh is our best low post scorer."

5Free-throw shooting continued to be a problem

The Bruins made only 17-of-27 free throws for 63 percent and hit only 9-of-16 in the final 1:52. Luckily their lead was big enough to hold on, but in a tighter game it would have been a major problem as it has been in other games.

UCLA is shooting 65.9 percent from the line for the season and has lost at least three games because of poor free-throw shooting. Travis Wear, the team's leading free-throw shooter at 84.3 percent coming into the game, made only 3-of-6. Jones, an 81 percent shooter last season, missed a pair of free throws in the waning minutes.

"We have some good shooters and in practice we knock them down, we just have to start consistently knocking them down in the games," Travis Wear said.