UCLA guard Norman Powell battles for the ball with Penn forward Fran Dougherty… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
Ben Howland made a concession this week.
UCLA will be playing more zone defense.
The coach hopes it will be played a little better after more practice. UCLA held on for a 77-73 win over Pennsylvania at the Honda Center on Saturday, the victory almost in spite of rather than because of the zone.
Penn guard Tyler Bernardini, a 6-foot-6 senior from Carlsbad, scored a career-high 29 points and made 8 of his 12 three-point shots in the effort.
Adding more zone defense isn't a decision Howland made lightly. In most of his years as UCLA head coach, he has stayed steadfast that man-to-man defense is the only defense he wants to play.
But having seen his team struggle this season, Howland has installed zone, and it's here to stay.
"Zone is not preferred," Howland said, "but it's what is fitting for our team now. We practiced zone at each of our practices this week. We're going to need to use it and be a team that plays both man and zone."
This has been a week of turmoil for the Bruins. Reeves Nelson, the junior who led UCLA in scoring and rebounding a year ago, was suspended for the second time this year and then Friday was officially dismissed from the team.
Sophomore center Josh Smith said losing Nelson as a teammate gave him the same feeling as losing a brother. "We are the closest of friends," said Smith, who had 12 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
"Obviously, this is a tough time," point guard Lazeric Jones (team-high 21 points) said. "But my teammates came out and stayed focused and got the win. That shows how mentally tough we are."
It seemed UCLA (3-5) was safely on to victory when, with 9:40 left in the game, Jones hit a jump shot to put the Bruins up 60-46. But Bernardini immediately knocked down a three-pointer, and when he hit his final one, with 2:58 left, the Quakers (5-6) were within four, at 71-67.
And with 29 seconds left and UCLA hanging on to a 75-70 lead, Bernardini rimmed out a final three-point shot.
"Whenever we gave him just an inch of space, he made it," Jones said. "That's something we have to work on, when someone is hot like that."
Howland said that however the win was accomplished, it was necessary.
"It was important for us to win a close game," he said. "It was an important game to win. It's a step in the right direction."
Sophomore David Wear, who had his first career double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds), agreed. "It was our first week where we've concentrated on running the zone, but I think we could be a really good zone team. We have to get back and work out some kinks."