Awful Effort Dooms Bruins

UCLA was undone against Cal by awful effort in the first half and a coach who knows how to expose the Bruins' weaknesses...

Thanks to aggressively putrid effort in the first half, and equally awful shooting, UCLA was blown out by Cal Thursday night 76-63. If you didn't watch the game, and just looked at the final score, you might consider it something other than a blowout, but there was little doubt that Cal was the dominant force, leading by as many as 28 points in the first half and never leading by fewer than 13 points in the second.

Given the position UCLA was in heading into this game, tied for first place in the Pac-12 with two teams who seem like they're both flawed, the complete lack of effort and desire through the first 20 minutes was startling. With a chance to maintain a tie for first place with Oregon, the Bruins laid one of their worst eggs of the season.

UCLA was horrible, all around, on defense, frequently getting broken apart by one screen, or one curl. At least three times, Jordan Adams was unwilling to fight through a guard's screen on a dribble handoff, which led to easy scores. It's be unfair to single out Adams, though, since the only player who played anything that looked remotely like perimeter defense was Norman Powell, and not a single post player on the team looked like they had a desire to rotate.

On the interior, UCLA had two overmatched 4's and Kyle Anderson, whose only post-like quality on defense is height, attempting to play defense against a couple of halfway decent posts. Once again, those halfway decent posts completely dominated the matchup, with Richard Solomon and David Kravish both made to look like potential Pac-12 Players of the Year. You'd actually forgive the fact that the Wears and Anderson are physically overmatched and unable to play solid post defense, but what was less forgivable was their poor effort, as a collective, on rotations.

Once again, UCLA was outrebounded enormously, especially in the first half when Cal gained its double digit advantage on the glass and scoreboard. Again, you'd expect UCLA to be outrebounded due to a lack of overall athleticism (and the fact that there's one natural rebounder on the team in Anderson). After the way this team has been out boarded this entire year, though, you'd expect a team of competitive guys to actually try harder on that end. Instead, UCLA missed block outs and looked completely disinterested in going to the glass.

After UCLA faced two poor coaches last weekend, both of whom apparently elected not to watch any game film of UCLA's losses this year, the Bruins were faced with another good coach in Mike Montgomery on Thursday, and as such, Cal mostly played off of Larry Drew, allowing him to shoot but not create. He hit four three pointers, but wasn't able to initiate the offense, which is his more important role. Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad once again spent most of the game coming off of curls or receiving passes faced with two or more defenders, and instead of kicking out, they generally shot ugly attempts.

Tony Parker got his requisite seven minutes, scoring a nice basket on offense and looking lost on defense. Then again, who didn't look lost?

Some credit should go to Shabazz Muhammad for his overall effort on the glass—he had five offensive boards and six defensive. Of course, his play on offense still tends to kill the flow, especially on the fast break where he rarely, if ever, passes the ball. He did have, surprisingly, three assists on Thursday, so maybe that's a good sign.

Somewhat prophetically, before the ASU game, Tracy posted on the message board that given the way this team relies on offense, UCLA had a good chance of beating plenty of good teams (on good shooting nights) and had an equally good chance of being blown out by some not so good teams (on bad shooting nights). The next day, UCLA was blown out by ASU while shooting 35%, and now the Bruins have suffered their second Pac-12 blowout this year while shooting 37%.

Really, the game was lost in the first half—heck, in the first 12 minutes, when Cal went up 35-13 thanks to a flurry of points on the interior. In the second half, UCLA made a slight comeback based off some marginally increased effort on the defensive end, but, honestly, the Bears might have taken their foot off the gas as well.

But, hey, good news: the Pac-12 is truly, madly, deeply awful and, despite being blown out twice by some pretty mediocre teams, UCLA is still just a game out of first (or, really, two games considering Oregon has the tie breaker). Given what we know about this team, though, expecting them to rattle off six straight wins to have a shot at winning the conference is probably a little much. With the way things are looking, in fact, it may be difficult for UCLA to maintain a top four position in the league, with just two remaining games at home the rest of the season, and those against the Arizona schools. UCLA, at 8-4, is tied for second with Arizona, and just a game ahead of surging Colorado and California. Dropping out of the top 4 would mean a Wednesday start to the Pac-12 tournament, which would make getting an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament an order of magnitude more difficult—an automatic bid that may, in that scenario, be necessary for entry.

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