UCLA may still make the NCAA tournament after all. Beating St. Johns, at a sold out Pauley Pavilion, in front of a nationally televised audience may have a lot to do with it.
Even though neither team is currently ranked, this was a big game for many reasons. Aside from it being a nationally televised game, it was St. John’s coach Steve Lavin's first trip back to Westwood after he was let go by the Bruins eight years earlier.
Lavin may be the coach of the Red Storm now, but he was still giving lessons to the Bruins. St. Johns came out with a full court trap and it gave the Bruins fits the entire game. UCLA coughed the ball up 18 times and the Red Storm took 26 more shots than the Bruins.
Early on, the Bruins could not control their own boards and allowed St. Johns multiple second chance opportunities to score, and just like that the Bruins were down 11-2. But that would be as big a lead the Red Storm would get for the rest of the game.
UCLA started working the boards and exercising their muscle through freshman Joshua Smith. The Red Storm had no answer for him in the paint as he went 8-of-10 from the floor. UCLA took their first lead just before halftime and never looked back.
The game was ugly, sloppy and rife with stoppages. Though the Red Storm continually caused UCLA to turn the ball over, they could not stop from fouling the quicker Bruins. UCLA took 41 free throws while St. Johns took only seven.
In the end, that was the difference maker as UCLA squeaked out a 66-59 win.
St. John’s Dwight Hardy was a man on fire. He scored 32 of the Red Storm’s 59 points, yet UCLA did not try to double team him at all. Instead, the Bruins relied on their quick team defense to stymie the Red Storm at every opportunity they could.
Smith had three blocked shots in the game, while Tyler Honeycutt had two of his own. In all, the Bruins blocked seven shots on their way to their third straight victory and have won seven of their last eight games.
Taking down your former coach’s team, and doing it in front of the nation will do much to get UCLA in the minds of the NCAA tournament committee. The problem is, if and when they get there, how are they going to fare?
UCLA still has a long ways to go before they can be considered a legitimate Top 25 team. Their record puts them close, but their team chemistry says they are not good enough.
UCLA needs to learn the three D's—Drive, Draw and Dish. The entire team seems afraid to take anyone on one-on-one using the dribble drive. And the few times that they do, they don’t draw the defense in and then dish the ball to the open man. Too often their penetrating drives are a mish-mosh of herky-jerky stand-alone moves that end with a turnover.
The Bruins desperately need a point guard to step up and take over this team. Someone who can calmly assess the defense and drive the lane, draw the defense in and then dish to an open man.
If the Bruins can accomplish this and cut down on their turnovers, then there is no limit to how good this team can become.