Here’s something that should concern Pac-12 teams: Joshua Smith is rounding into shape.
UCLA’s 6-10, 305-pound center has largely been a disappointment and non-factor this season, which is certainly contributing to the Bruins’ underwhelming season. They’re 9-7; he’s averaging 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds a game and playing just 21 minutes an outing. Those are not coincidences. When Smith is on the floor, he’s an incredible rebounder and solid offensive threat.
Perhaps that’s why last Saturday’s 18-point, four-rebound game against Arizona State signals the start of something promising for the Bruins. They cruised to a 75-58 win and actually looked good on offense. Smith’s teammates know where credit is due.
“He opens up everything for us,” forward Travis Wear told Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic. “(Against ASU), we started to get a lot of cuts to the basket, a lot of wide-open jump shots. Josh is a force. Teams have to obviously help down on him more. If he can make them pay for it, then we’ll continue to give it to him.”
(The Sun Devils’ lackluster defense also helped. Anyway.)
Smith was aggressive, got to the free-throw line and attempts a season-high 12 shots. That’s great news for a team that often looks lost on offense. He didn’t play two days earlier against Arizona due to a concussion, but teammates say they’ve noticed an improvement over the last few weeks. He’s noticed, too.
“I feel a lot better,” Smith told Haller. “That’s probably why I’ve been playing a little better, playing more minutes. … A lot of times I play like 17 -18 minutes because I pick up two early fouls and sit out. As long as I stay out of foul trouble, I feel like I can play more than 20 minutes.”
Having the big guy do his thing would be a huge boost for UCLA and make the Pac-12 race far more interesting. Heck, it may even give the conference a chance for more than one NCAA tournament bid …
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