Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 1/6/12
UCLA is off the schneid. 1-2 looks a lot better than 0-3. It also does a great deal for the psyche. On the heels of announcing his team had no other choice but to win the Pac-12 Conference Tournament in order to get into the NCAA Tournament, Ben Howland's Bruins figured they might as well start that preparation on the right foot, picking up their first Pac-12 win of the season on Thursday night. If they didn't, history would definitely not have been on their side. The Bruins were in danger of starting the conference season 0-3 for the first time since 1987-88. Despite finishing tied for second in conference, they failed to make the NCAA Tournament. To say the 65-58 win over Arizona on Thursday night was big would be an understatement. "It's either a win or an 'L' and it sure feels a lot better to win," said Howland. "It was obviously a big win for us." Plenty of growth was made in the win. While starting center Joshua Smith sat behind the bench in street clothes after suffering a concussion on Wednesday, the Wear Twins combined to have their best performance as Bruins. "I was especially pleased with both the Wears. I thought they made a good step forward this week in practice and it carried over into the game and that's --as a coach--what you love to see," said Howland. "I thought that they scored well around the basket and got more aggressive trying to post and we ran a couple of new plays that we never really ran before that got them some post touches." A big assist to their huge night goes to Lazeric Jones, who Howland applauded for setting good screens to get the Wear Twins open on the block. It was a new role for Jones, who spent a lot more time off of the ball on Thursday night than he ever did throughout the course of his career. "It's a lot different. I've never played off of the ball in my life," said Jones. "I'm just trying to get used to it. If it's going to help us get wins, I'm just going to listen and do whatever coach tells me to do." Howland says it's not likely to change, because Jones "has to be our primary scorer." "He's got to be a primary guy that we're looking for to run offense through and with his point guard skills he's going to make plays for others as well," he said. "I don't think Zeek has any problem taking shots. I think he's very comfortable." Saturday presents a different sort of challenge for UCLA (8-7, 1-2 Pac-12) when they host Arizona State (5-9, 1-1 Pac-12) at Honda Center at 7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports West. The Sun Devils will enter the game with just six scholarship players. Three players were suspended by head coach Herb Sendek. Keala King, Kyle Cain, and Chris Colvin, were all left behind in Tempe for what ASU says is "unacceptable conduct." The Sun Devils picked up their first conference win on Thursday as well with a 62-53 victory over USC. It was a game in which the Sun Devils shot 61 from the floor. They didn't have a problem putting the ball in the hoop against the Trojans, despite being without King, their leading scorer. If the Bruins aren't careful, they could have a similar letdown. "When know we can't play down and beat anybody and Arizona State proved real clearly last night maybe this thing has brought them together more. You look at (Trent) Lockett and (Carrick) Felix, they both had great games and everybody supported them," said Howland. "We're going to have to play really well to beat them tomorrow and I know that and I think our team knows that." Lockett and Carrick combined for 41 of the Sun Devils 62 points. Once again the Bruins could be without Smith, who did not practice Friday. "I would say it's less that he will (play) than he won't," said Howland. Smith was expected to do some bike riding on Friday. If he came out of that OK, he would then have to travel back to campus early Saturday for testing. Doing well on the test will clear him to play.
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