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UCLA BASKETBALL

UCLA lets up, then nails down victory

Bruins need a second-half run to defeat Montana State, 75-59

December 21, 2010|By Ben Bolch

They said it wouldn't happen again, and it didn't.

Instead of a start-to-finish letdown against another seemingly overmatched opponent, UCLA appeared on the verge of an epic collapse.

When Montana State guard Erik Rush went in for a reverse layup early in the second half Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion, the Bobcats had wiped out all of a 15-point deficit and the Bruins faced the prospect of going 0-for-the-Big-Sky-Conference.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland immediately called a timeout, berating his players about their poor rebounding. He punctuated the session by slamming a clipboard to the court.

"That's when we went on the run," Bruins guard Malcolm Lee said.

And what a run it was. UCLA used a 24-5 surge to secure a 75-59 victory that nevertheless left the Bruins with bigger issues than a ragged triumph.

They played the final 8 minutes 20 seconds without Tyler Honeycutt after the sophomore clutched his right shoulder in pain and walked off the court.

He was diagnosed with a sprained right AC joint and is considered doubtful for UCLA's game against UC Irvine on Thursday, though Howland said he did not anticipate the injury being a long-term problem.

Honeycutt, who had nine points and four rebounds, was scheduled to undergo an X-ray and an MRI exam.

The Bruins (7-4) were comfortably enough ahead at the end that they were able to play walk-ons Blake Arnet and Tyler Trapani for the final 38 seconds. But their fourth consecutive victory still sapped some of the momentum from a recent triumph over nationally ranked Brigham Young.

"I think we just got out to a big lead against a team that we didn't consider as dangerous as BYU or Kansas and we kind of got lackadaisical," said sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who scored 15 points.

Asked if the Bruins were good enough to take teams lightly, Nelson paused before teammate Joshua Smith interjected.

"Say no," Smith told him.

"No," Nelson said.

Lee scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half as the Bruins overcame a three-point deficit with 15:10 remaining by rattling off the next 12 points.

Howland said he could sense a poor performance coming when his players were "way too loosey-goosey" in practice Monday.

"Part of that was we had a great game on Saturday" against BYU, Howland said. "We have to learn how to handle success better because we didn't have one of our better practices. The last time we had a practice like that was before Montana."

The atmosphere also felt a lot like it did during the Bruins' 66-57 loss to Montana earlier this month. There were so few students in attendance that it would have been faster for the UCLA players to conduct a pregame roll call of them than vice versa.

The Bruins actually had plenty of early energy, scoring the game's first eight points and building a 22-7 lead.

But Montana State (6-6) cut its deficit to seven points by halftime and opened the second half with a flourish, scoring 13 of the first 17 points amid a flurry of rebounds and putbacks, before UCLA finally snapped out of its funk.

"Hopefully, we'll learn something from it," Howland said.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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