ANAHEIM “”mdash; Lazeric Jones still has to remind himself of his new role.
Sometimes, the senior guard will stand by the baseline after a made basket, waiting to dribble the ball up the court before he realizes those duties are now being shared with fellow senior guard Jerime Anderson and sophomore shooting guard Tyler Lamb.
Jones, UCLA’s starting point guard since his very first game as a Bruin, played a majority of his minutes as a wing against the Arizona schools in an effort to reduce some of his ever-growing responsibilities.
More than a week ago, he put up a career-high 26 points on Stanford, serving as the team’s primary and sometimes only source of offense. Two days later, California keyed in its defense on Jones and held him to just five points.
After stopping Jones, Cal coach Mike Montgomery said his team was able to “take the head of the snake out.” UCLA coach Ben Howland schemed right back with his decision to move Jones off the ball.
“Knowing Jerime’s out there takes a lot of pressure off me,” Jones said. “I know that teams deny me the ball and I know Jerime can handle it.”
Jones is still adjusting to his new role. He said he’s never played the two-guard position before, but Howland doesn’t see that as a problem.
“He’ll be fine. I don’t think Zeek has any problem taking shots,” said Howland, laughing. “I think he was being modest.”
Jones leads UCLA in shots, shooting on average two more times per game than second-leading shooter Lamb.
After going through an early-season shooting slump, Jones was fairly efficient at shooting the ball entering the series against the Arizona schools. But he shot close to 30 percent (eight-for-26) despite UCLA putting up a Pac-12 sweep, going one-of-10 on 3-pointers.
Jones admitted it will take time for him to settle in to being an off-ball guard.
But while his shot isn’t falling, he still has chances to use those point guard skills and create for his teammates. On Saturday against Arizona State’s zone defense, he recorded a season-high 10 assists.
“When it’s a zone, it’s not like you’re at the wing,” Jones said. “A lot of my passes came from the top, so I was just trying to break it down.”
Smith feels better, plays better
Sophomore center Joshua Smith was visibly frustrated after having to deal with the concussion protocols put in place for those who suffer from a head injury.
He listened to the team doctors, who told him he had to sit out of UCLA’s 65-58 win over Arizona on Thursday.
Smith came back with a vengeance, tying a season-high with 18 points while dominating ASU’s big men.
He and Howland credit it to Smith’s improved conditioning. Howland said Smith has put in extra running to get down to his lowest weight this season, and Smith said his performance was a reflection of that.
“I feel a lot better,” Smith said. “That’s why I’ve been playing a little better, playing more minutes. This season I’m in better shape than I was last year.”