Thursday, September 21

Momentum of men’s basketball picks up after two consecutive Pac-10 wins

Improved defense, efficient offense help men's basketball sweep Washington schools

There’s a new feeling making the rounds in Pauley Pavilion’s home locker room. It’s called momentum, and it’s a powerful force.

UCLA (9-10, 4-3 Pac-10) never trailed Washington State (14-6, 4-4 Pac-10) in its largest Pac-10 win of the year, a methodical 74-62 victory at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. With their win over Washington on Thursday night, the Bruins have two consecutive conference wins for the first time this season and stand at second place in the up-for-grabs league standings.

After Thursday night’s dramatic buzzer-beating win over defending conference champion Washington, UCLA was looking to ride out the wave of emotion through the weekend.

“A lot of guys were still hyped off that game,” starting freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt said.

Despite using just seven players, the team’s energy was clearly visible in an improved zone defense and efficient offensive rotation, which led to open shots for the team’s primary shooters.

“Our team has to play exactly how we’re playing right now to have success,” coach Ben Howland said.

Freshman forward Reeves Nelson came off the bench to lead the Bruins with 19 points, 15 of which came in the second half, when UCLA finally pulled away from its opponent. As a team, the Bruins made 14 of their 19 shots after the break.

Senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who hadn’t made a 3-pointer in the first two games of the home stand, single-handedly raised the arena volume level in the second half with multiple crowd-pleasing shots from long range. He finished the game with 18 points on 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the arc.

The Bruins stayed in the 2-3 zone that has worked for them in all four of their conference wins and that helped to hold the Cougars to a 35.6 percent shooting average on the day, a season low for UCLA opponents.

“We’ve been practicing it more, especially last week,” Dragovic said of the defensive scheme. “I think we’re a lot more comfortable in it right now.”

Cougar freshman guard Reggie Moore was the exception; he took over his team’s scoring duties for the second straight game, nailing 6-of-10 3-pointers to finish with 24 points.

Washington State’s sophomore guard Klay Thompson, the conference’s leading scorer averaging more than 22 points a game, appeared frustrated at times, making just five of a game-high 17 field goal attempts to finish with 13 points.

Honeycutt completed an all-around impressive weekend, totaling 18 points on nine-for-10 shooting, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and four steals over the two games. Howland attributed Honeycutt’s play under the basket on defense to better numbers on the boards.

“He’s a long, active pogo stick that goes up … and gets rebounds,” Howland said. “Being down there along the baseline a lot because of where he’s stationed in our zone really has helped us be a better rebounding team.”

Redshirt junior guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, who nailed the game-winning shot against the Huskies on Thursday night, was given a warm welcome by the Pauley fans when he came off the bench in the first half.

He didn’t disappoint the home crowd, giving the Bruins eight straight points in two minutes in the first half with three deep jump shots to beat the rotation of Washington State’s zone defense.

“Mustafa gave us a big lift off the bench,” Howland said.

Washington State, who came back to beat USC at the Galen Center on Thursday night, has now split each of its Pac-10 weekend sets this year going into its rivalry game against Washington next Saturday.

UCLA now heads to Oregon in an attempt to continue its winning streak against the bottom two teams in the conference.

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