UCLA Dominates Boards, Defeats St. John's, Lavin

UCLA's win snapped a six-game losing streak to St. John's.

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Nelson, Smith Lead UCLA Over St. John's, 66-59

Reeves Nelson grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds, and hit a clutch three-pointer in the final minute, leading the UCLA Bruins to a 66-59 victory over the St. John's Red Storm at Pauley Pavilion. The victory was the seventh in the last eight games for UCLA, who beat former coach Steve Lavin, in his first season at St. John's. The Bruins' victory also snapped a six-game losing streak by the Bruins against St. John's, though the two schools hadn't faced one another before today since 2004.

UCLA built a 60-50 lead with five minutes remaining, but St. John's chipped away at the lead as the Bruins missed several free throws down the stretch. UCLA missed six of their last eight free throw attempts. After St. John's cut the lead to 62-59 with under a minute remaining, Nelson hit a fall-away three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to widen the Bruins' lead to six, essentially putting the game away. Nelson made just three of 15 three-pointers on the season before that make. St. John's didn't score again.

Freshman center Joshua Smith tied a season high with 19 points, on eight-of-10 shooting, and also grabbed eight rebounds himself. The Bruins outrebounded the Red Storm 40-28. Guard Dwight Hardy led St. John's with 32 points, scoring over half of his team's points. Hardy made 13 of 24 field goals, while his Red Storm teammates made just 12 of 39 shots.

The Bruins host the Oregon schools next week, beginning with a Thursday night tilt against the Ducks at Pauley Pavilion. For more information on today's game, be sure to read Bruins Nation.

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UCLA Vs. St. John's: The Return Of Steve Lavin To Westwood

The UCLA Bruins face their old coach today as coach Steve Lavin returns to Westwood, bringing his St. John's Red Storm to Pauley Pavilion. Both teams are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, which makes today's game even more important. The Bruins have won six of their last seven games, including a 64-50 home win over USC on Wednesday.

UCLA's win on Wednesday was only the first phase of what Bruins Nation called "the most crucial week of Ben Howland's career at UCLA":

Along with last month's game at Kansas, these are the biggest games of the regular season for the Bruins. While the opponents would typically be enough to get the attention of this community and the greater Bruin Nation, the fact is that this week also marks a turning point for this team, for good or for bad. Not only due to the psychological impact of the opponents (not to mention the ever changing mental state of this team), but because of the impact of these games on UCLA's chances to get into the Big Dance, they will have an enormous impact for Howland's long term prospects in Westwood. He has no margin for error this week.

Lavin won 158 games in seven seasons at UCLA, advancing to the Sweet 16 five different times. However, after winning the Pac-10 in Lavin's first season in 1996-97, UCLA didn't finish higher than third place in the conference under Lavin after that. This is his first season with the Red Storm, who are 13-8, and 5-5 in the Big East. St. John's leads the all-time series with UCLA 6-2, winning the last six meetings, but the two schools haven't played since 2004.

UCLA guard Lazeric Jones sprained his left wrist against the Trojans on Wednesday, and had x-rays taken after the game. Those x-rays came back negative, and Jones returned to practice on Friday, and is expected to start today's contest against St. John's. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who leads the Bruins in scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounds (8.4), is shooting 62.4% from the field over his last 10 games, during which the Bruins are 7-3.

The Red Storm have four seniors in their regular starting lineup, led by guard Dwight Hardy (15.0 points per game) and forward Justin Brownlee (13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds per contest). St. John's dismantled Duke at home last Saturday, 93-78. UCLA is 11-2 at home this season, while St. John's is just 2-5 on the road. Today's 10 a.m. PST game will be televised on CBS, with Ian Eagle and Greg Anthony on the call.

For more information on today's game, be sure to read Bruins Nation.

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2011 NCAA Tournament: UCLA & St. John's Firmly On The Bubble

The latest NCAA tournament bubble watch is up at SB Nation, and Chris Dobbertean has the UCLA Bruins making the tournament, though they still have work to do. When UCLA lost to USC on January 9, the Bruins fell to 9-6, and 1-2 in Pac-10 conference play. Since then, however, the Bruins have asserted themselves, winning six of seven games, which has propelled them to 7-3 in conference, tied with the Washington Huskies for second place in the Pac-10.

Saturday's game at Pauley Pavilion against St. John's basically amounts to an 8 vs. 9 tournament game, per Dobbertean's rankings. Both the Bruins and Red Storm, coached by ex-Bruin head man Steve Lavin, are in the "work to do" section of the NCAA tournament bubble. Dobbertean says of the six teams in the "work to do" section "have separated themselves slightly from the bottom of the at-large pool, though in the cases of UCLA and Georgia, there isn't a lot of breathing room between them and the last eight at-larges, especially considering the profiles of the three auto bid holders hovering around lines nine and 10."

UCLA is one of three Pac-10 teams projected by Dobbertean to make the tournament, joined by Washington (a 7 seed) and Arizona (an 8 seed). None of the conference teams are seen as locks for the tournament, a testament to the down year for the conference.

For more information on UCLA hoops, be sure to read Bruins Nation.

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