The smiles on the faces of the UCLA men’s basketball players weren’t insincere, but it was clear that something was missing.
The Bruins (5-2) had just defeated the Cal State Northridge Matadors (6-2) by a score of 82-56, but the knowledge that two of their own had left the team within the past week was still on their minds.
Juniors Joshua Smith and Tyler Lamb both announced this week that they would leave the program.
Lamb announced his intention to transfer on Sunday and Smith did so on Wednesday morning.
Smith, a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, is a crippling blow, considering the Bruins only have three post players remaining on their roster.
“We are obviously disappointed,” coach Ben Howland said.
“But at the same time we wish the best for Josh and we appreciate what he gave to the program during his time here.”
Because the Bruins had just eight scholarship players left on their roster, they started the game in a zone defense for the first time this season to conserve energy.
The switch paid off, as the Bruins were able to hold the Matadors to a 32.9 percent field goal percentage on the night.
“We practiced zone a little bit this week and I think it’s good for us,” said redshirt junior forward Travis Wear, who led the team with four blocks.
“I think it helped us have fresh legs, which helped us getout on the break tonight, which was nice.”
UCLA managed to force 16 turnovers on the night, which assisted the Bruins in their transition game.
Freshman forward Kyle Anderson had 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals, three assists and two blocks on the evening, easily his best performance as a Bruin.
Redshirt senior point guard Larry Drew II also had a big night, as he set a career high in assists with 13 while adding two steals and only committing two turnovers.
“Larry has been great for this team,” said sophomore guard Norman Powell, who led the Bruins in scoring with 17 points.
“He likes pushing in transition and he likes finding his teammates. His role has been big for us this season.”
The victory did not come without its lumps, however. UCLA lost freshman forward Tony Parker to a sprained ankle in the first half, which left the Bruins with just seven available scholarship players.
Despite its lack of numbers, UCLA exhibited a level of energy that has not been seen this season, and it paid off, particularly on the boards and in transition.
“It started in practice the day after the (Cal Poly loss),” said freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad.
Muhammad led the Bruin squad in rebounding, with nine boards in just his second career game in the new Pauley Pavilion.
“We worked hard and you could see our effort on defense transitioned to our offense and we did a really good job on both sides of the ball.”
While the Bruins will mourn the loss of Smith and Lamb for the time being, the victory over the Matadors showed them that they can still reach their goals despite the hardship.
“I think we can still be the team we want to be, but we’ll change our identity a little bit, like playing zone tonight,” Wear said.
“We’re still going to push the ball, we still have a lot of talented pieces and we have a lot of guys who believe we can win games. I think we can go far this year.”