LOS ANGELES — Ben Howland’s teams have always been known for playing a physical man-to-man defense.
How times have changed.
UCLA used an effective zone defense, and Reeves Nelson and Nikola Dragovic scored eight points each during a decisive second-half run to spark the hot-shooting Bruins to a 74-62 victory over Washington State on Saturday.
The Bruins are 52-2 against the Cougars in Los Angeles and lead the series 96-14.
UCLA (9-10, 4-3 Pac-10) led by two points early in the second half before outscoring the Cougars 16-3 to make it 48-33 with 11:14 remaining. Washington State (14-6, 4-4), which never led, didn’t get closer than seven points after that.
“All four of those games (Pac-10 wins), we were in zones,” Howland said. “It’s just better for us. We’ll still play some man-to-man. We’ve got to keep working at it; we can get a lot better with this zone.”
When asked the last time a team of his has played so much zone, Howland quickly replied: “Never.”
His teams have a 329-163 combined record in his 15-plus seasons as a college coach.
“I think this is easier for us,” Dragovic said of the zone. “I think we’re a lot more comfortable now. We practiced (the zone) a lot more over the last two weeks. I don’t care what we do as long as we win.”
Nelson, a freshman, scored all but four of his 19 points in the second half, and Dragovic had 16 of his 18 after halftime for the Bruins, who have won two straight after losing three of four including one-sided setbacks at home to Arizona and Southern California.
“We beat a very good team today,” Howland said. “Our team has to play exactly as we have been playing to be successful.”
Reggie Moore led Washington State with 24 points — one shy of his career high. Klay Thompson, who brought a conference-leading 22.8-point average into the game, was 5 of 17 from the field for 13 points.
The Bruins shot 73.7 percent (14 of 19) in the second half and 59.1 percent overall (26 of 44) while Washington State shot 35.6 percent (21 of 59).
About the only problem area for the Bruins was foul shooting — they made only 16 of 28 from the line, including 13 of 24 after halftime.
“Those last 199 seconds seemed like an eternity,” Howland said. “We have to get better at closing out games from the foul line.”
Nelson and Dragovic combined to score only six points before the helping the Bruins break the game open. The Cougars, who rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to beat Southern California 67-60 on Thursday night, were unable to come back this time.
“UCLA was impressive today,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “They did a nice job in the zone defense. They got the ball inside. They just played a great game.
“It’s hard to make up a 14- to 15-point deficit. It was hard to make a run against them. Klay had trouble hitting from three. When that happens, other guys have to step up and make shots.”
A 3-pointer by Moore with 1:55 remaining trimmed UCLA’s lead to 67-60, but the Cougars couldn’t get any closer.
Moore kept Washington State in the game during the first 10 minutes, scoring all 12 of his team’s points, but the Cougars trailed by four. Moore didn’t score again until early in the second half.
Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, whose buzzer-beating jumper gave UCLA a 62-61 victory over Washington on Thursday night, scored the Bruins’ first eight points during a 12-4 run that extended their lead to 30-21. The Cougars then got 3-pointers from Nikola Koprivica and Thompson to draw within three points at halftime.
UCLA guard Jerime Anderson (hip flexor), who has made 13 starts, sat out his second game and backup center J’mison Morgan (strained right quadriceps) missed his fourth.