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UCLA finally has an easy night in rout of New Mexico State

The Bruins, who had lost five in a row, roll to a no-doubt-about-it 100-68 victory at Pauley Pavilion.

December 16, 2009|By David Wharton
  • UCLA forward Brendan Lane, left, knocks the ball away from New Mexico State forward B.J. West with the help of forward Tyler Honeycutt during the second half of the Bruins' 100-68 victory Tuesday night.
UCLA forward Brendan Lane, left, knocks the ball away from New Mexico State… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)

It was an awkward-looking shot, a three-point attempt that sailed high above the rim, then somehow crashed in off the glass.

And it was an omen.

UCLA basketball: In Wednesday's Sports section, the photo caption with the UCLA-New Mexico game story misidentified the Bruin who was pictured, Tyler Honeycutt, as J'mison Morgan. —

As if ignited by guard Malcolm Lee's early, unlikely basket, UCLA awakened from a long offensive slumber to cruise past New Mexico State, 100-68, Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Though the victory came against a clearly overmatched opponent, it was crucial because it ended a losing streak at five games and allowed the Bruins to smile for the first time in weeks.

"He didn't call bank," Coach Ben Howland joked of Lee's shot. "But he'll take it."

Lee begged to differ: "It was midway in the air when I called it."

UCLA (3-6) returned to life by doing all the things that had been missing. Namely, playing solid defense, rebounding and pushing upcourt, then putting the ball in the basket.

"It's really tough when you lose five games in a row," Howland said. "So just to get in the win column is a good thing for team morale."

UCLA also avoided matching its worst streak in Howland's tenure -- there were two six-game winless stretches in his first season, 2003-04.

Back then, he had former coach Steve Lavin's players on the court. This is his team, and the need to turn things around had been palpable.

"When the losing streak continues to grow," guard Jerime Anderson said before the game, "the pressure also continues to grow."

Relief came quickly by way of a run of torrid shooting in the first half, started by Lee's three-pointer.

It was a particularly good night for the guards, with Lee, Anderson and Michael Roll combining for 47 points. A couple of freshmen chipped in, Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt scoring 16 and 14 points, respectively.

At the same time, New Mexico State (3-6) did little to put up a fight, missing shots and offering up a wide variety of turnovers, throwing passes away and kicking balls out of bounds.

But not everything went smoothly for UCLA.

James Keefe, who started at center, walked off the court in the first half holding his left shoulder -- the same shoulder that required surgery for a torn labrum two years ago.

Howland said it popped out of the socket and would be evaluated by doctors today.

Things also went badly for senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who was looking to break out of a shooting slump.

Dragovic had worked extra hours on his technique this week and teammates vowed to get him better opportunities. And he did make a couple of baskets early.

Then his shots began to clang away, and he finished with nine points on three-for-nine shooting.

Otherwise, it was a promising night for the Bruins.

"They were tough defensively," New Mexico State Coach Marvin Menzies said. "We just couldn't get into a flow."

Those comments must have been music to Howland, who was careful to credit his team's defense, especially in the first half, for creating points.

"That's the stuff that's exciting," he said. "That's the stuff that is going to help you win in the Pac-10."

Lee echoed his coach's thoughts.

"A lot of my shots came off rebounds and just pushing up," he said. "That got me into the flow of the game way better."

UCLA held the Aggies to 38.9% shooting, forced at least some of their 20 turnovers and finished with 10 steals.

It all added up to a performance that should make today's film session enjoyable.

Though UCLA must prepare for a difficult matchup at Notre Dame on Saturday, Howland said his team would linger awhile over Tuesday night's game.

"It's just believing in what you're doing and executing," he said. "There will be some positive things we can build on."

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