They should blow out a pretty bad James Madison team, 100-70, with five players in double figures, and two scoring over 25 points apiece.
Those are the We'll-Out-Score-You Bruins.
It was the perfect antidote to a lackluster, very disappointing performance against UC Irvine Tuesday. James Madison played its part perfectly, being the type of team that didn't want to slow down the pace of the game, but try to match UCLA's new up-tempo style. They were a team without much size inside and, combined with trying to roll back 3 or 4 players to defend against a break as soon as they shot it, were a very poor rebounding team. UCLA got out-rebounded by Irvine 55-44, but outrebounded James Madison 41-26. If UCLA is going to get Early Offense, like it did in this game, the best-case scenario is to play a team that doesn't rebound, especially on the offensive boards. JMU was perfect for the Bruins, in that the majority of its perimeter players were bigger, slower types -- lacking superior quickness.
If only the Bruins could play James Madison every game.
You have to give UCLA a great deal of credit -- bouncing back from Tuesday to play the way they're supposed to now play in Howland's new approach. It all happened exactly like the blueprint reads.
As we said earlier, too, freshman Jordan Adams is the perfect fit for Howland's new UCLA. He is, first, the best shooter Howland has ever had as a Bruin. Yep, we're only three games in to his freshman season, but we'll go out on a limb and make that claim. When we saw him in AAU ball, we said he'd be the best shooter at UCLA since Mike Roll, but he's clearly better than Roll at the same stage. What's stunning about Adams is that most freshmen -- shooter or not -- have to go through that adjustment period of getting used to shooting the ball as a college freshman. Just about everyone goes through it, and even the best shooters usually start off out-of-sync. It's getting used to playing at a different pace, against better athletes, in bigger arenas. Sometimes prospects who were actually good shooters in high school never make the adjustment. Gerald Madkins, Ray Young. Many others. Adams is a cold-blooded assassin that doesn't look to be even slightly fazed by the Freshman Adjustment Effect. Perhaps it was because he played at Oak Hill Academy, where they played some big, high-profile games regularly. Now, know that he's not going to look like this in every game; in AAU ball he'd have games like this, and then he'd go up against better, athletic defenders who would try to shut him down and he'd have some bad-shooting outings, where he seemingly chucked it quite a bit. But he's now established himself as such an offensive threat -- and not just a shooter, but a scorer -- that opposing teams are going to have to really compensate for him when drawing up their defensive gameplan for the Bruins, and that gives his teammates scoring opportunities. What was perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Adams' game Thursday was going off in the first half, scoring 16 points, vut then not forcing it in the second half, but passing the ball when it warranted it to get his teammates the better look.
The revelation of this game was Norman Powell, who was a completely different player than he was Tuesday, when we heard he was ill. Powell finished with a game-high and career-high 27 points, feeling it from the very beginning and not taking his foot off the gas. He made his first couple of shots -- a three-pointer and a baseline mid-ranger -- and it looked like that boosted his confidence and started him on the roll. For having a shaky outside shot last season, it's impressive how good it looks now, going 4 for 5 from three. Of course, like with Adams, don't expect him to look like this every night against better competition. But if there's one particularly significant development out of this game it's Powell's performance -- that it gives him the boost of confidence to take his offensive looks. One drive in the second half where he spun around a defender in the lane for a lay-up showed that newfound confidence. He also was good giving up the ball, finding teammates with some unselfish passes, finishing with 5 assists against two turnovers. What's going to be interesting is what happens to Powell once Shabazz Muhammad is eligible. It appears that Powell would be coming off the bench and have his minutes reduced.
Point guard Larry Drew also is getting more comfortable and confident. It wasn't the open three-pointer that he knocked down, but the 12 assists against 3 turnovers that was impressive. He got many of them from smart passes that showed a little more aggressiveness in his passing to find an open man. He's getting more confident in putting the ball on the floor to create. Of course, it has to be said that James Madison didn't have a perimeter player with any quickness, so Drew looked particulary quick in this game.
Josh Smith's development, since he's been at UCLA, has seemingly been a step up and a step back. This game was clearly a step up, and hopefully it starts him on a climb of the development stairs. In just 17 minutes he scored 11 points and had 6 rebounds. He was poised with the ball around the basket, and, of course, James Madison didn't have anyone who looked like they were the same species as Smith to guard him. What was distinct about Smith in this game was his improved agility; he seemingly moved better in getting out of his space to get rebounds. It's better since I don't remember Smith ever moving from his spot previously to get a rebound. He moved his feet distinctly better on defense, which helped put him in a position to block some shots -- out of his area.
Freshman center Tony Parker, too, was impressive in his 18 minutes, scoring 12 points and pulling down 4 rebounds. Parker has really improved his body in the last 6 months, and it's improved his athleticism, particularly his ability to move laterally as a big man. He had a couple of nice hedges on screens, showing good quickness. He also had a pretty turnaround jump hook from the middle of the key, which he's always been able to do, but it was good he actually did it here.
Kyle Anderson is seemingly a lightning rod of controversy among Bruin fans, and it was to be expected because of his unorthodox game. Anderson isn't nick-named Slo-Mo for nothing; he's not very athletic or quick, and much of his offensive game looks like he's moving, actually, in slow motion. He, though, has exceptional vision and passing ability, which Anderson is starting to assert more. He had one of the prettiest passes on a pick and roll to David Wear in which Anderson laid off the ball in anticipation of where Wear was gong to be on his way to the basket. Anderson, too, is a good natural rebounder, leading the game with 12.
The Early Offense worked in this game. While UCLA didn't get too many traditional fast breaks -- even though they did get a few -- they did collect quite a bit of points in getting open looks in early semi-transition. That means Adams or Powell taking a relatively open three-pointer or getting an open mid-range look when the James Madison defense was still matching up in transition. What's been pretty impressive is, when UCLA tries to find the Early Offense but can't, it's been relatively seamless in moving into its halfcourt set. One worry has to be, after not finding a look in the Early Offense, it could eat up too much of the shot clock to actually execute the halfcourt set properly, but Thursday, at least against James Madison, they made a smooth transition. When they did, too, actually operate their sets they did it well, working the high-low well after the bigs sealed inside, and on the perimeter using screens away from the ball to get Adams open on curls.
Perhaps the most impressive stat on the night: 27 assists on 36 made baskets. That means players aren't going one-on-one but looking to find teammates for good looks.
In fact, though, in the case of this UCLA team, you wouldn't necessarily mind if they did go one-on-one a bit more -- that is, put the ball on the floor. Adams does it, and sometimes he gets himself in trouble, but still for a freshman it's not bad. Powell is is driving more, and had a nice assist out of one drive. You wouldn't want opposing defenses to recognize that UCLA isn't a dribble-drive team and that they can extend their defense to try to take away the open outside looks. You want them at least to honor it.
It was a fun game to watch, with Adams and Powell putting on a show, the team shooting 59% for the game, and 56% from three. At halftime, UCLA was shooting 67% from the floor and 86% from three, and leading 63-29. If you were wondering how it ranked in terms of highest scoring halvesof all-time, UCLA actually scored 84 points in one half in 1990 against Loyola Marymount.
In terms of defense, well, it was better than it was against Irvine, but it's still not good. James Madison had very little interior offense and was mostly a spot-up shooting team, which plays right into UCLA's lack of athletic defenders. Even given that, James Madison had far too many open looks and Rayshawn Goins, the 6-6 combo forward, lit up UCLA's bigs for 24 points. UCLA's man defense looked better organized, but still slow to react and close out.
But we have to get used to it. This is the new version of UCLA under Ben Howland. UCLA is going to win by out-scoring you, with some micro-wave, instant offense. It has to be said -- if you're a recruit who likes a quick tempo on offense and a green light to score, this is your program now. UCLA had 63 points in the first half. In comparison, Arizona, which has been mis-labeled as a run-and-gun, up-tempo program, against UTEP last night didn't get to the 63-point mark until 4 minutes left in the game. In its three games, UCLA is averaging 88.7 points per game.
When the Early Offense works, like it did Thursday, and Adams and Powell are lighting it up -- then throw in Muhammad to the mix -- the 2012-2013 Bruins are clearly going to have their best chance to win by out-scoring you.