UCLA Goes Out on a Good Note

It might be setting the bar too low, but it was good to see UCLA end its season with a well-played game, one that saw the Bruins playing mostly with effort and focus as they went down to Florida in the Round of 32, 73-65...

It was a good game, well-played by both teams, and fittingly so for the NCAA Tournament, and to end UCLA's season, when the Bruins went down at the hands of Florida, 73-65.

It came down to what it sometimes does in these kind of well-played games – just a few little breaks here or there deciding it.

Erving Walker making that off-balance, prayer shot, and then on the long in-bound pulling up and making the three-pointer were daggers. They weren't necessarily a result of great play, or great coaching, just some very fortunate bounces, and that's the way it's decided sometimes.

There were a number of key sequences in the last six minutes or so of the game – where a fortunate bounce might have decided it in favor of either team.

Many times, though, it does seem that the fortunate bounce goes to the more experienced team. It could be that the team with more experience does more of the little things to just nudge that lucky bounce in their favor more often. It seemed that way down the stretch in this game.

At about 6:30 remaining, the score was tied, 55-55. UCLA came out of a timeout, and Ben Howland had clearly drawn up a play against Florida's zone – that worked, an alley oop over the top of the zone to Josh Smith. But Smith, being the inexperienced freshman, went up soft and had his shot blocked. Florida then hit a three on the other end in semi-transition. Smith then missed another little gimme on the next possession, going up soft again, and Florida hit another three. That 6-0 run really decided the game. Then there's Walker's prayer, and then Lazeric Jones pulls up his dribble in the corner of the frontcourt for a turnover.

Experience, again, influences the little bounces.

You can't be too critical of Smith, who really showed what a force he is, and will be, in college basketball. In the first few minutes of this game it was the Joshua Smith Show, being too big for Florida's talented frontline to body up on. He even flashed a five-foot baby jump hook. It's very exciting to think, with an off-season where he can get his body in better shape and put more work in on his post game, what kind of player he could be next season; he has a chance to be one of the handful best post players in the nation.

It's also very difficult to be too critical of Jones, who has been a warrior, with two injured hands for most of the second half of the season. It might have been more the fault of Howland, who tends to get into his grooves in terms of playing time, determining early who are "his guys," and then not deviating from it for the rest of the season. With Jones hindered by the injuries, Jerime Anderson probably was the better option for the last few weeks, and probably in this game down the stretch.

Anderson, though, isn't such a clear-cut advantage over Jones. In fact, it was pretty pronounced in this game that UCLA was truly lacking a high-quality of point guard play. Projecting for next season, you'd hope that Jones and Anderson would continue to improve and elevate the quality of play out of the position.

This team has gone the way of Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson all season, and it was good to see both of them finish off with a good game. Honeycutt had 13 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks, against just one turnover, and played relatively good defense. He didn't have too many defensive lapses, and made up for a few of them with some big blocks, and kept UCLA in it down the stretch with some clutch three-point shooting. Nelson had another double-double, 16 points and 11 rebounds, and did generally okay in a challenging defensive match-up against Alex Tyus, whose length was a problem for him. He missed a couple of screens and one particular block-out on an offensive rebound. But if you compare the performance of Honeycutt and Nelson in this game to a tape of a game earlier this season you'd have to note that they had come a long way, in terms of their effort and focus.

Again: Malcolm Lee = Warrior. He had 16 points and 6 rebounds, and did so many things well, including continuing to find seams to make nice cuts to the basket, and again providing great defense.

Anthony Stover, in 11 minutes, was a force, with a couple of big blocks and shot alterations, as well as some good post defense. See, even if he doesn't score a point (even though he did in this one), he is ultimately a positive sum game since he prevents so many points with his defense. He's another exciting proposition to think about how much he could develop by next November. If he merely becomes a 65% free-throw shooter he'll be enough of an offensive force.

UCLA's offense was generally efficient, again looking like it benefitted from facing a team that just doesn't have as much opportunity to scout Howland's offensive sets as Pac-10 opponents. Florida's Billy Donovan utilized both a man and zone defense, and when he went to the zone at about 10 minutes remaining in the game, UCLA was a bit out-of-sync adjusting.

Defensively, as a team, UCLA had a couple of lapses defending the screen, as it has all season. Now that they've been through this year you'd hope that they're now experienced enough to go back to a standard of hedging on screens. Perhaps Stover can teach a seminar to the rest of the posts in the off-season.

Perhaps this is setting the bar too low, but it was good to have the team end the season on a good note. With this team, being young and of questionable motivation at times, you didn't want to end the year with one of their notorious, Bad-Effort games.

We'll have a season review coming soon...

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