It’s a little overused to say “it was a tale of two halves.”
But it really was.
UCLA played perhaps its worse half of the season in the first half against Oregon State Friday night, but then played a half that rates as one of its best of the season to beat the Beavers, 77-66.
In the first half, the offense was abysmal, the team didn’t take care of the ball and the Bruins had no intensity on either side of the floor. UCLA shot 37%, had 9 turnovers to seven assists, its two best scorers – Dijon Thompson and Trevor Ariza – combined for only 4 points, all from Ariza, and UCLA trailed at the half, 34-24.
In the second half, UCLA had 17 assists to just four turnovers (finishing with a fantastic 24 assists), shot 67% in the second half and scored 53 points to easily over-match the Beavers. UCLA ultimately out-rebounded the good-boarding Beavers 35-28.
The UCLA players said afterward that they thought at halftime that they needed “a spark.”
They found the spark in the form of freshman forward Trevor Ariza and former walkon Janou Rubin. Ariza scored 16 points in the first 7:30 of the second half, putting on a show with great assist, dunks and two three-pointers to lead a UCLA surge that allowed them to take the lead, 47-42.
Then Ariza handed off the baton to reserve guard Rubin. Rubin came in and promptly hit three threes to extend UCLA’s run, and beat away Oregon State when they cut the lead to 1 again with 5 minutes left in the game.
Ariza finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, while Rubin had 13 points and three assists. Ariza’s 24 and Rubin’s 13 were both career highs.
Ariza did what many anticipated from him since he came to UCLA – showing a great all-around game offensively. Rubin, on the other hand, continues to surprise. He played well in every facet, playing tough defense, making good, smart decisions with the ball, and hitting his open jumpers. He might not have as many open looks for now on after this performance.
Dijon Thompson had a tough night, finishing with just six points, four of them on easy garbage breakaways in the final couple of minutes. He not only shot just 3 of 11 for the night, he struggled to get his shot, with Oregon State doing a very effective job of taking away open looks from him. Luckily, Ariza and Rubin picked up the slack.
Cedric Bozeman came out of the game with five minutes left in the first half due to an abdominal strain, and scarily didn’t start the second half. He did then return seven minutes into the second half and made a huge difference with his physical presence on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. He had just three points, but had six assists against no turnovers.
Michael Fey kept UCLA in the game in the first half, scoring nine first-half points on some mid-range jumpers and put-backs.
T.J. Cummings was limited by an injury to his foot, finishing with just 2 points in 21 minutes. The extend of his injury is unknown.
The tale of two halves wasn’t just predicated on the spark from Ariza and Rubin, though, but also on a renewed defensive intensity and a sustained, 10-minute period where UCLA’s offense actually operated its best this season to date. After the Beavers shot 50% in the first half, UCLA held them to 37% in the second half, with a renewed pressure on the ball and a defensive boost inside from Ryan Hollins off the bench. But perhaps the most promising aspect of this game was the portion of the second half where UCLA’s offense flowed smoothly. With the defense getting stops on one end, the offense then converted on the other efficiently. After Bozeman entered the game in the second half, he operated the offense the best he had this year. UCLA’s guards waited for the screens to be set, fed the post well, and the offense operated inside-outside, with UCLA’s inside players either getting easy looks or Ariza and Rubin hitting threes from kick-outs. Ariza and Hollins also crashed the offensive boards and got some easy put-back dunks.
UCLA obviously misses Brian Morrison, who continues to sit out due to a hamstring strain. Not only is his outside shooting missed, but his defensive energy. Head Coach Ben Howland was trying to find someone to replace his outside shooting, and possibly did with Rubin. In fact, if Thompson continues to struggle, Rubin could see more time, especially while Morrison is out.
Attending the game was the #1 high school player in the country, 6-11 Dwight Howard. Howard is in town to play in the Pangos Dream Classic today at Pauley Pavilion. He, of course, is expected to put his name in the NBA draft. Also in attendance were Jordan Farmar, Taylor King, and Fairfax junior forward Jamal Boykin.