Eastern Washington’s trip to the Los Angeles Sports Arena started off as a tribute to “stall ball.”
The Eagles would routinely hold the ball for 20 seconds on offensive possessions before running plays, turning their matchup with the Bruin men’s basketball team into a glorified staring contest.
“The slow pace was something we’re not usually used to. We like to run up and get down,” redshirt sophomore center Anthony Stover said. “When they’re holding the ball … it’s not very fun. We adjusted to it and we did pretty well at it.”
Once the Bruins were able to finally get out and run, the pace of the game suited them just fine. UCLA pulled away for a 60-47 win to start a meager two-game winning streak, something the Bruins (4-5) haven’t had all year.
UCLA pulled it off shorthanded and wounded. Junior guard De’End Parker was already sidelined before redshirt sophomore forward Travis Wear was hospitalized Tuesday night after suffering an infection in the left foot he cut while snorkeling in Hawaii. On top of that, sophomore guard Tyler Lamb missed two days of practice with a lingering hip issue.
It was clear that UCLA could ill afford any more injuries, but a hard fall by redshirt sophomore forward David Wear early in the second half almost left the team one more Bruin down. That left an already on-edge UCLA coach Ben Howland panicking.
“A big scare,” Howland called it.
David Wear would eventually return, but not before Eastern Washington (5-5) made it a game. The Eagles opened the second half on a 12-4 run that cut the 10-point Bruin halftime lead to just two.
On their heels, the Bruins finally had a chance to regroup when freshman guard Norman Powell was intentionally fouled on a fastbreak drive to the basket.
“We said (in the huddle), ‘look, they’re not going to go away,’” said Lamb, who had 14 points. “We kept it on them and held though, especially on the defensive end.”
Powell made his two free throws before hitting a pull-up jumper in transition, and sophomore center Joshua Smith dropped in a layup through a foul to cap a 6-0 run that made sure the lead wouldn’t get that close again.
The Bruins’ 3-point defense especially held tough. The Eagles, a live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 team, made three out of five 3-pointers to open the second half and cut the lead. They finished shooting 5-of-22 (23 percent).
The Bruins were letting opponents shoot 42 percent on 3-pointers before the game.
Stover and junior forward Brendan Lane, who had combined to play 57 minutes all year, each played 18 minutes in Travis Wear’s absence, coming off the bench to provide defense and spell the starters.
“We did some things that Travis usually does,” Stover said. “Brendan did a really good job tonight, I played hard tonight, and I think we got the job done.”
The Bruins did it without a trace of zone defense. Howland used it for nearly half of Saturday’s 77-73 win over the Pennsylvania Quakers, but chose not to turn to the zone against the Eagles because of their propensity to hoist long-range shots.
“I was afraid to zone this team cause they shoot almost 37 percent from 3 this season,” Howland said. “They spread you out.”