There were times one might think UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland thought zone was a four-letter word.
Not on Friday night.
Howland had his team rely mostly on a zone defense that steered them to an impressive 71-63 victory over visiting Richmond on Friday night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The zone helped UCLA slow down a Richmond offense that made six of its first eight shots but only 18 of 54 for the game.
"We wouldn't have won the game without playing zone," Howland said afterward. "It's been good for us in the times we have to go to it. I'd rather play man, but the zone (worked)."
The zone defense not only helped UCLA defend, it helped them rebound too as the Bruins (7-5) finished with a dominant 42-30 advantage on the glass. On the offensive side, Howland said the team's motion offense made an impact, particularly in the second half when the Bruins shot nearly 62 percent from the field. Five Bruins scored in double figures for the second straight game and third time this season.
Senior guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson both had big games. Jones scored a team-high 16 points and finished with a career-high six rebounds. Anderson finished with 13 points, a career-high seven rebounds and six assists.
"I was able to pick my spots and attack aggressively," Anderson said. "We were able to get better shots as our motion offense gave us good looks against their matchup zone."
Anderson's dribble penetration opened things up for the Bruins big men, particularly Travis Wear, who scored 14 points. Joshua Smith added 11 points and five rebounds. David Wear had 12 points and seven rebounds, and Howland touted this as the twins' best game yet. Both looked more physical, particularly Travis, who scored 10 points in the last 5:03 to help put the Spiders (7-6) away.
"Post guys do a lot of their work down low, and I need to get used to that," Travis Wear said. "I need to work on sealing and being more physical every day."
Using more zone defense, moving to a three-guard lineup, the growth of twins David and Travis Wear and the dismissal of Reeves Nelson are all critical developments to this season. Friday's win over the defending Atlantic 10 champions required UCLA to show progress on the court. Richmond's Darien Brothers scored a game-high 25 points, making five 3-pointers and providing an example of why Howland recognized the value of beating a well-respected Richmond team that plays tough defense and runs the Princeton offense as well as any team in the country.
"That was a very important win against a good team," Howland said. "They're well-coached and hard to play against. Their style of play and strategies, you don't see that often."
It's particularly important as UCLA takes some time off for the Christmas holiday and returns to action on December 29 when it opens Pac-12 play at Stanford.
"We were definitely in a tough spot," Anderson said about the team's 2-5 start. "It was an adverse situation or the whole team.
"The difficulty and adversity helped us get stronger - we came together. Now we're really clicking out there."