A Win That Feels Like a Loss

UCLA's come-from-behind win over Texas, 65-63, was perhaps the most unsatisfying win in recent UCLA basketball history...

It simply doesn't matter that UCLA won the game against Texas, 65-63.

This was one of the most unsatisfying wins ever. UCLA didn't deserve to win it. Actually neither team did. This was a bad game, played by two bad teams, and someone had to win. It was one of the worst-played games that UCLA won in recent memory.

UCLA is not an NCAA Tournament team. Even if you project a good amount of improvement, the Bruins just aren't worthy of playing in the NCAA Tournament. There would have to be a complete sea change in the performance and intensity of the team.

Right now, the team is simply a mess, from so many perspectives.

Because we're obligated to analyze the game, I'll do so – painfully – but quickly.

The only thing that worked at all with any reasonable success in that game was when UCLA, down 61-55 with 2:19 left, pressured the inbound by Texas. It then also turned up the intensity on its half-court defense, and UCLA went on a 9-0 run to win.

Let's review the positives. You have to appreciate Jordan Adams's effort; he seemed like the guy who wanted the win the most in the end. Give the players credit for turning up the defensive intensity in the last 2 minutes. Give Ben Howland credit for deciding to pressure the inbound. Before that, there wasn't much else. Perhaps Kyle Anderson played his best half in the game's first 20 minutes.

But besides that, there really isn't anything else that was good about that game. And there's a long laundry list of things that was wrong about it.

UCLA has a bad defense, whether it's man or zone. If Texas were just an average-shooting team the Longhorns win this game by about 15. They missed their first 10 three-point attempts, and ended up 4 for 20 on the day. And just about every one of the misses were wide-open looks. Even blind Dick Vitale could see they were open looks. They missed lay-ups. Uncontested lay-ups. They missed dunks. That's just a clearly bad offensive team.

The zone, too, is proving to not be anything close to a panacea for the season. It might be better suited for UCLA's personnel, but at this point, without having the time to work on it, it's probably no better than UCLA's man defense. The mistake was made back in summer when Howland didn't recognize that this team was better suited for a zone and he didn't install it and start working on it then. Howland, too, has clearly sent a message to his team that his highly-preferred defense is man, and that the zone is merely an unsavory stopgap. Not really a ringing endorsement that's going to inspire players to buy in. You know it's bad when, on the ESPN telecast, Vitale, the quintessential p.r. machine, actually spits out some negativity. During a timeout, they were showing a clip of Vitale playing one-on-one against a 12-year-old, and Vitale was playing no defense. Commenting on it, Vitale said: "That's a little bit of UCLA defense right there."

How far has this program spiraled? If you could transport your old self from 2008 to December 8th, 2012, and hear Vitale say that about Howland's Bruins, you'd think you were in some alternative universe.

Vitale saying that is the sound of a rock being thrown down a well and hearing it hit the wall of the well before it hits rock bottom.

UCLA's player, except for that last 2 minutes, looked fatigued, physically and mentally. No one looks like they're enjoying themselves. They look like they're collectively going through a team root canal. And then physically they got completely gassed in the second half against Texas. UCLA's man defense is not good, but it got horrendous in the second half, with Bruins making litle effort to keep their man in front of them. Larry Drew was particularly bad, but so was Shabazz Muhammad, on the perimeter. Inside, the Wears looked tired, as they usually do in the second half, and over-matched by Texas's advantage in athleticism, which they also usually do when playing against more athletic post players.

UCLA's offense now really doesn't know what it's doing. It's not really Howland's traditional sets, because players are still trying to get "early offense," which mostly means they put up bad, forced shots early in the shot clock. "Early Offense" can sometimes be a good thing for Adams, but also a bad thing, a green light to force a shot. It can mean a forced drive by Muhammad.

Are we being overly negative after a win? I don't think so. That game deserves some wrath. Even if you're trying to be positive and optimistic, it would be really difficult to pull out the proverbial: "A Win is a win." Many times a win isn't a win. And that, my friends, was the best example of it.

Since we're in the business of putting things in perspective, we have to do it here. This "win" was not a step forward. The team didn't make any progress in that game. You couldn't even spin it to say that UCLA won against a high-major team. Texas is a high-major program, but this year's Longhorn team, with the personnel it put on the floor Saturday, is the equivalent of a low-major team. And not even a good one. The Longhorns are just flat-out bad, perhaps the worst team UCLA has faced yet this season. This is essentially an eked-out steal of a game by UCLA over a foe like Sam Houston State or Alabama A&M. It's the equivalent of the win over UC Irvine.

And here's the thing: We don't see how UCLA can get much better. What could they do? The zone looks like it's a moot point. Maybe Drew should extend his on-ball defense, like he did successfully on the last couple of possessions of the game, and see if that works to sufficiently disrupt opposing offenses, since he's going to get driven on or shot over even if he sags off. Perhaps Howland should start pressuring the inbound more often? The team only has a slight chance to salvage the season, and the only way it's going to do it is by succeeding defensively like it did in the last 2 minutes of that game. It has basic genetics and a lack of athleticism going against it, but something needs to light a defensive spark like pressuring the inbound did against Texas.

Howland's job is obviously on the line. It will depend on whether he can get this team to play the rest of the season like it did in those last two minutes.


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