Almost Brought Down by Own Demons

The Bruins faced a very depleted WSU team, one they should have really crushed, but they fell into some of the bad habits that have plagued them all season, only to pull out the game in overtime, 58-54...

It was an incredibly fitting way to end the regular season.

It was the season in a microcosm. It had everything. If you wanted to see UCLA's season captured in one afternoon, just watch a tape of UCLA beating Washington State in overtime, 58-54.

It almost could have been one of those video montages of the season.

As a team, like we've seen many times, UCLA played with very little effort for a big portion of the game. It was definitely a resurrection of the Bad-Effort Bruins. Defensively they didn't resemble anything like the team that had been playing good defense for the last several weeks. They allowed Cougars to dribble drive right around them, they were confused on how to defend screens, they lazily lost their man away from the ball, they provided very little help defense and they didn't get back quickly in transition.

On offense, they slipped into that same rut of settling for outside jumpers and not trying to get the ball inside.

That combination had UCLA down by as much as 15 in the first half. But, as it's been with this year's Bruins, there was very little doubt they were going to get back into it in the second half. Since it was a game with everything, it also featured a UCLA comeback.

Very typically, the Bruins picked up their effort level, getting stops on defense and easy baskets on offense. They went on a 11-1 run to get back in the game 30-33, and then it was a matter of weathering one last Washington State push and predictable UCLA lull, which happened almost on cue.

Seriously, if this were a movie you would have thought it was formulaic shlock.

You would have also thought that the characters were rather stereotyped since every Bruin played perfectly to the same character we've seen of them all season.

Reeves Nelson had ups and downs in terms of effort and focus. He actually started the game with intensity, but once UCLA got down quickly, by no real fault of Nelson, he appeared to go into his characteristic low-effort lull. He started the game focused on defense, but then in the last 10 minutes of the second half he was getting beat off the dribble and in the post, and providing little help defense. As was perfectly in character for him, though, he had 9 of UCLA's 19 first-half points. He then found some inspiration in the second half (perhaps Greg Hicks texted him at half time), and played much better. His effort was capped when he hustled back on a key play in transition for the block on a break in the second half.

Tyler Honeycutt was perfectly in character, too. He didn't make a basket until about 5 minutes left in the game, which extended his streak to about 75 minutes without one. He had more turnovers (3) than assists (2), which is very typical, but also had more turnovers than baskets (2). In the first half he was moving really slowly, on both sides of the court, and looked like he was in his characteristic too-cool mode, not blocking out, being careless with the ball, and on defense showing very little intensity on the ball and in help. He simply didn't look like he cared about the outcome of the game. It seemed, then, that a light clicked on a bit with him – as if he realized, "Heck, I'd better start making an effort and make sure we don't lose." In the second half he was a completely different player than he had been in the first, aggressively getting rebounds, looking to set up teammates on offense with nice passes, and playing with more intensity on defense. It was a bit surprising – and out of character – when he, too, hustled back in transition on that key play to help with that block. Perhaps the worst thing that has happened to Honeycutt, given his penchant for playing nonchalantly, is that he's had some degree of success shooting three-pointers, because just being a catch-and-shooter has seemingly made him play with even less energy and settle for jumpers on offense.

It was very characteristic of Malcolm Lee to be the guy sustaining the effort and intensity throughout the game, and to be hindered by cramping. It was also very Lee-like when he was the catalyst to turning the momentum in favor of UCLA, shutting down Faisal Aden on one side of the court with tight D, and then getting out and scoring in transition and being fouled to start UCLA's run to get back in the game in the second half. He also, again, did well defending the opposing team's best perimeter scorer, Aden, holding him to 14 fairly quiet points on 4-of-17 shooting. It was also very typical of being the MVP of the team when Lee made all the clutch free-throws to ice the game.

Josh Smith had a very typical game for him, showing flashes of dominance, but not showing enough aggressiveness in finishing around the basket, and also getting into foul trouble on a silly foul. It was typical that when he touches the ball in the post he's the difference in UCLA's offense.

It was also typical that Jerime Anderson, who has emerged as a leader on the team and a guy who can make a clutch play, forced a turnover with 5 seconds left in overtime when UCLA was up by only 3 points. It was the play of the game.

It also is a very familiar scenario for this year's team to allow this to be a game with Washington State missing its two best players, Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore. They have consistently played down to their competition, and they did it again Saturday.

Give Washington State and its coach Ken Bone some credit. They did some things on offense that exploited UCLA's defensive weaknesses, and their zone defense forced the Bruins into shooting too many outside jumpers. Bone had the Cougars poised to win a game that, frankly, they had no business winning without Thompson and Moore.

The fact that this was a game that was so characteristic and indicative of this team's past transgressions was, well, disappointing. Over the last few weeks, with the team's improvement, it was starting to appear that the Bruins were growing and developing beyond their early-season issues. The loss to Washington on Thursday was disappointing, but only because it was a loss and not one due to these same old factors. It is worrisome that for this game, the last of the regular season, and heading into the Pac-10 tournament, the Bruins did fall back into so many of their bad habits.

But, perhaps you have to give these Bruins credit for growing and developing in one aspect: being hindered by their old issues and actually winning the game.


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