UCLA's Reeves Nelson celebrates during the second half of the Bruins'… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S.…)
Once more, with feeling?
UCLA's Pacific Life Pacific 10 Conference quarterfinal against seventh-seeded Oregon or 10th-seeded Arizona State on Thursday at Staples Center represents one last chance for the second-seeded Bruins to show they no longer take lesser teams lightly.
UCLA went 10-0 against the bottom half of the conference this season, but many of those victories came in the wake of flat starts. The Bruins trailed Washington State by 15 points, Stanford by 14, Arizona State by 12 and Oregon by 12 before roaring back for victories.
"We did come out a little lackadaisical and nonchalant, and it showed," junior guard Jerime Anderson acknowledged Saturday after UCLA pulled out a 58-54 overtime victory against Washington State, which was missing its top two guards.
Bruins Coach Ben Howland said his team needs to come into every game with the same mind-set regardless of its opponent's record.
"If we haven't learned that by now," he said, "we're never going to learn it."
Howland seemed more disappointed than Malcolm Lee that the junior guard was not selected the Pac-10's defensive player of the year, an award that went to USC's Marcus Simmons.
"Malcolm Lee's the best defender — I've said that — in our league," Howland said. "The kid who won it, Marcus Simmons, is terrific, no question. He does a great job too and is also deserving, but I'm for Malcolm."
Lee said he wasn't surprised Simmons won the award because Simmons "is a great defender as well. We shut down a lot of people in our conference."
Did Lee expect to win the award?
"I wasn't expecting to get it," he said, "But I wasn't going to be surprised if I did."
Doubling their fun
USC is 10-1 when senior forward Alex Stepheson records a double-double this season, with wins over Texas, UCLA, Washington and Arizona.
"That's interesting," Stepheson said. "I didn't even know that."
Stepheson's teammates say the 6-foot-10, 250-pound former North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake star fires them up with his imposing style of play.
"I wouldn't say he scares people, but when he grabs a couple [of] rebounds, like huge rebounds, and then he dunks a couple [of] times, that gets us going," junior forward Nikola Vucevic said.
When told of this, Stepheson agreed.
"Now that you say that, after a big dunk or a big rebound or maybe even a big block, I definitely notice that the team's energy picks up and we start jumping around," he said.
Stepheson is averaging 9.9 points and nine rebounds.
USC's Simmons probably will guard California guard Allen Crabbe, the league's freshman of the year, in Thursday's quarterfinal.
"It will be very challenging for Allen if that's the case because [Simmons] does such a good job," California Coach Mike Montgomery said.
Crabbe, a former Los Angeles Price High star, is averaging 13 points this season and 25 over in his last two games.
Crabbe didn't play because of a concussion during USC's 78-75 victory in Berkeley on Feb. 17. He had 12 points in Cal's 68-66 win at USC on Jan. 22.
UCLA's Anderson (viral illness) and Tyler Lamb (strep throat) both practiced Wednesday and are expected to be available to play Thursday. … Washington forward and co-captain Justin Holiday (concussion) will have to pass medical tests to play in Thursday's quarterfinal against Washington State, according to the Seattle Times. Washington is already without guards Venoy Overton (suspension) and Abdul Gaddy (knee).