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COLLEGE BASKETBALL

UCLA finds the fun in 66-49 win over Delaware State

The Bruins win their second in a row in their last game before Pac-10 play starts, finding some chemistry as they deal with the Hornets' slow, deliberate offense.

December 28, 2009|By David Wharton
  • UCLA center Reeves Nelson, who had a career-high 21 points, works in the lane against Delaware State's Kris Douse in the second half Sunday.
UCLA center Reeves Nelson, who had a career-high 21 points, works in the… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

One week. Two games.

As winning streaks go, UCLA's current run isn't exactly historic.

But for a team badly in need of confidence, a 66-49 victory over Delaware State on Sunday -- the Bruins' second in a row -- will have to suffice.

"Our chemistry is a lot better," guard Michael Roll said. "We're having fun out there on the floor."

And they are getting a boost before the Pacific 10 Conference schedule opens against Arizona State on Thursday.

It helps that freshmen Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt played especially well, leading the team with 21 and 11 points, respectively.

"They're still going to make freshman mistakes, they're still learning things defensively for the first time," Coach Ben Howland said. "But they're going to get a lot of experience here in their first Pac-10 season and I think they'll both play well."

Sunday's final tuneup before conference play figured to be methodical -- or downright sleepy -- with Delaware State moving at a deliberate pace.

Any time the Hornets (4-6) took a shot in the first 10 or 15 seconds of a possession, it was considered a fastbreak.

More often, they preferred to move the ball around the perimeter until the shot clock ticked down at least halfway, then look for a shot. Making only 36% of their attempts, it was often a bad shot.

UCLA improved to 5-7 by remaining patient on defense and running an efficient offense. Only some unexpected scoring from Delaware State's Terron Stowe -- at 6-2, 260 pounds, he looked more like a nose tackle -- kept the game from becoming a total blowout by halftime.

As it was, UCLA held a 38-19 lead.

"We started off well, but when we went to the bench, we weren't able to keep it going," Delaware State Coach Greg Jackson said. "We had some bad shot selection and some quick shots that didn't help us."

Given the uphill battle the Bruins face this season, it was difficult to pinpoint one or two things they wanted to improve upon in this game.

Asked beforehand whether he had any specific goals in mind, Howland responded with the word "everything." The continuing maturation of the freshmen had to be high on the list.

Honeycutt is making up for lost time, missing all summer because of an injury. Nelson is slightly ahead and spotted an opportunity to score inside against Delaware State.

"They weren't very . . . " he said, pausing. "They were small in stature."

The Hornets also were finishing up a treacherous stretch, facing Arkansas, Arizona State and Ohio State before arriving in Westwood, losing all of those games by wide margins. But, with their style of play, they had held the score down, making it rough on their opponents.

"It's not really about the game being less fun," Ohio State guard David Lighty said last week. "You've got to make it fun and get the win."

On Sunday, UCLA accomplished both goals.

Delaware State threw a variety of defenses at the Bruins, zoning and trapping, occasionally pressuring the length of the court. None of it proved effective.

And though the Hornets got some offense from Marcus Neal and Frisco Sandidge, who combined for 27 points, they could not compete on the boards.

Nelson started his scoring streak late in the first half, then picked up soon after halftime. Honeycutt amassed his points with a three-pointer here and a fastbreak dunk there.

"Knowing the plays and running the plays," he said. "I'm looking more to score, definitely."

The game eventually turned sloppy for UCLA with too many turnovers, garbage time beginning with about 10 minutes remaining.

But a win is a win and now comes what Howland called "a whole new season," starting with an Arizona State team that figures to play a troublesome zone for 40 minutes.

"Night in and night out, it's going to be a dogfight," guard Malcolm Lee said, looking toward the conference schedule. "It's important that we won a couple of games."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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