Fresh off a glorious week that saw UCLA sweep both Arizona teams under the rug, the Bruins now prepare for their next big challenge up in the Evergreen State.
The Arizona State Sun Devils fell to UCLA last Thursday by a final score of 71-53. With just over ten minutes played, the Bruins found themselves down by 12 points after ASU freshman guard Chanse Creekmur hit a three-pointer to make the score 21-9.
Ben Howland quickly called a timeout to regroup his troops, and whatever Howland said to the Bruins during that timeout turned out to be exactly what they needed to hear. Once back on the court, the Bruins rattled off 14 straight points and outscored the Sun Devils 30-8 to lead 39-29 at the half.
ASU never came close the rest of the way, and the Bruins cruised to a comfortable 18-point victory that saw Lazeric Jones earn player-of-the-game honors. He was outstanding at both ends of the court, recording his first ever double-double by scoring 10 points, making 10 assists and not turning the ball over a single time.
Three days later, the Bruins turned in an even better performance against the Arizona Wildcats.
The Bruins scored 71 points for the second straight game while holding UA to only 49. What was a seesaw battle early on slowly turned into a 40-30 Bruin lead by halftime.
If the Wildcats had any hope of a comeback, responsibility rested squarely on the shoulders of Arizona sophomore forward sensation Derrick Williams. While Williams was a key early factor for the Wildcats by driving the lane and drawing fouls, he could not sustain that attack for the entire game.
After a solid first-half performance that saw him put up 13 points, Williams all but vanished in the second half, netting just two points.
Meanwhile, Reeves Nelson was a beast.
In his prior games against Arizona, Nelson’s shooting percentage averaged better than 70 percent. This game was no different, as Nelson went 10-13 from the floor for 27 points and 16 rebounds.
Simply put, UA had no answers to the questions Nelson was asking them.
In the end, UCLA coasted to an easy 22-point victory. If that wasn't enough, the game was nationally televised as former coach and basketball legend John Wooden was honored on senior day.
With the win firmly secured, Howland emptied his bench with 47 seconds left to play. When Bruins backup Jack Haley missed a three-pointer, Wooden’s great grandson, Tyler Trapani, was there to grab the rebound and score his first-ever basket for the Bruins—the last-ever basket in old Pauley Pavilion.
Like the ending to a fairy tale, the great-grandson of the man who started it all for the Bruins finished it off for the Bruins.
UCLA hoped to crack the top 25 with the sweep, but that was not in the cards though the Bruins did manage to move up to No. 33 in the RPI.
Next stop for the Bruins is a trip to the Great Northwest to face the Washington Huskies and the Washington State Cougars. Since they have a two-game lead on UW, UCLA only needs to split the two games to ensure finishing no worse than second in the Pac-10.
If UCLA were to sweep and see the Wildcats slip up against one of the Oregon teams, however, the Bruins could have first place all to themselves.
It will be tough for UCLA in either venue, but especially so against the Huskies as they've already beaten the Bruins by 11 at Pauley in December, and are hopping mad they've slipped from the top 25. In the Bruins' defense, they are not the same team that lost to the Huskies two months ago, and neither is Washington.
There are no easy games for the Bruins here on in. This is the time of year that Wooden would have said that the real test of character is about to unfold.