The Pacific Tigers and UCLA Bruins are set to meet in the NIT Season Tip-Off tonight at Pauley Pavilion.
Pacific earned a spot in tonight's game by defeating Nevada last night by a 64-53 final. Strong defense was the key to that victory, just as it was in a season-opening 66-61 triumph over UTEP on Friday. The Tigers are members of the Big West Conference and are led by Bob Thomason, who is in his 23rd year at Pacific and has the most wins in school history.
UCLA bested Pepperdine last night by a 79-69 final to advance in this event. The Bruins are now 2-0, as they crushed Cal State Northridge in Friday's opener by an 83-50 final. Ben Howland has a significant amount of talent on the roster, perhaps enough to challenge for the title in the wide open Pac-10 Conference.
UCLA owns a 5-1 series lead over Pacific, and the teams haven't met since 1972.
Three starters scored in double figures for Pacific in last night's victory over Nevada, and Sam Willard led the way with 15 points before fouling out. Equally impressive was Willard's total of 16 rebounds, twice as many as Nevada's top performer on the boards. Demetrece Young contributed 14 points for the Tigers, and Nyika Williams posted 10 points. Pacific shot just 33.3 percent from the floor in the second half, including 2-of-10 from three-point range, but still managed to outscored Nevada by 12 points over the final 20 minutes. The reason was a 15-3 edge in points from the foul line in the second half and strong defense that limited the Wolf Pack to 29.6 percent field goal efficiency. Against UTEP in the opener, Willard posted 23 points and 11 rebounds, and he is playing with a wealth of confidence right now.
Four of UCLA's five starters reached double figures in scoring in Monday's 10- point triumph over Pepperdine. Reeves Nelson led the charge with 20 points and 11 rebounds, as he shot 8-of-10 from the floor. Tyler Honeycutt posted 16 points, while Joshua Smith and Lazeric Jones added 13 points apiece. The Bruins connected on 52.6 percent of their field goal attempts and earned a 35-26 rebounding advantage, two obvious reasons for the victory. They also forced 18 turnovers, overshadowing a rather inefficient 14-of-25 effort from the foul line. The UCLA starters played limited minutes against Cal State Northridge in the opener, as the score was quite lopsided. Still, Nelson managed 17 points in that affair, and Honeycutt was close behind the 16 points.
The Bruins will protect their home floor with a victory tonight. Once again, Nelson will be the best player on the court for UCLA.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Pauley Pavilion (12,800) -- Los Angeles, California. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Pacific 0-0, UCLA 2-0. Away Record: Pacific 1-0, UCLA 0-0. Neutral Record: Pacific 1-0, UCLA 0-0. Conference Record: Pacific 0-0, UCLA 0-0. Series Record: UCLA leads, 5-1.
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