Howland Era Starts with a Win, 72-65

Ben Howland took the Pauley Pavilion court for the first time and looked quite at home, coaching like it was a mid-season game. The team played fairly well, having more flow on offense and effort on defense, with freshman Trevor Ariza blasting out of the blocks with a double-double...

The Ben Howland era began with a win Wednesday, as UCLA beat EA Sports West All-Stars in an exhibition, 72-65.

Trevor Ariza, UCLA's skinny freshman power forward, came to school, played his first game and quickly moved to the head of the class, registering a double-double, leading the team in both points (17) and rebounds (10).

Shooting guard Brian Morrison scored 14, hitting 4 of 6 from the three-point stripe, and wing Dijon Thompson also added 14. Point guard Cedric Bozeman had 7 seven points, seven boards and 9 assists.

It was almost pretty much exactly what you could have expected from the team in Howland's debut. They generally played good defense, rebounded well, ran a structured offense and played hard.

A foursome of former Bruins stocked EA Sports West, and were the team's four leading scorers, led by Matt Barnes and 21 points. Ed O'Bannon had 11, Ray Young 10, and Rico Hines, hitting two threes for the first time ever on Pauley Pavilion's floor, finished with 9. All of the former Bruins were cheered before the game, with O'Bannon getting a strong standing ovation.

But even with O'Bannon stepping into Pauley for the first time in a long time (he was seen before the game, outside, running around, asking where the training room now is with the new Acosta Center being built), it was still Howland's night.

The new head coach orchestrated the game on every possession, calling out plays on every trip down the court and yelling instructions on defense. There were times he was obviously frustrated, mostly it appeared when UCLA's effort on defense sagged. On one Trevor Ariza dunk, the freshman did a celebratory dance and Howland yelled at him to get back on defense. Howland held his hand in his hands when UCLA shot free throws, shooting only 23.8% for the game and missing 8 in a row in one stretch.

The Bruins built an eight-point lead with about 5 minutes to go in the half, but EA Sports made a 13-4 run to end the half and take a 37-36 lead at the half.

In the second half, UCLA put together a 12-2 run at about the 13-minute mark to go up 57-49 and then held on to the lead for the win. Shooting 5 of 21 from the three-throw line, if UCLA had made even a paltry 60% of its free throws and added just another seven points the game wouldn't have been very close much of the way.

Howland substituted fairly liberally, obviously trying to get a feel for his players and a rotation. At the 14-minute mark in the first half, Ryan Hollins came in for Michael Fey, and Janou Rubin for Brian Morrison. A few minutes later, Josiah Johnson subbed for Ariza, and then Walcott came in for Bozeman.

Ariza looked very good, especially for his first game as a collegian. He was 4 for 7 from the field, including 1 of 2 from the three point line, even though one of his other baskets was with his toe barely over the three-point arc. With his shot having improved considerably since high school, Ariza squared up and shot well, played hard underneath the basket battling for rebounds, and looked good passing the ball (the stat sheet only atttributed him with 2 assists, but he had more).

Brian Morrison picked up his second foul in the first half and committed his third and fourth pretty quickly in the second half, so he played only a total of 23 minutes in the game. But besides the fouls, Morrison had a pretty noteworthy 23 minutes. He looked deadly from three, hitting 4 of 6 effortlessly, got up high for rebounds (6), made some very nice passes and generally played under control, except for the fouls. The team was considerably better when Morrison was on the floor, with him providing strong perimeter, on-the-ball defense and a spark on offense.

Bozeman was the worst culprit from the line, making only 1 of five. But the junior point guard looked "solid" on the night, passing the ball well, and looking very strong driving to the basket and finishing. He did commit his fourth foul with about 11 minutes left in the second half, which had him sitting on the bench for the next 5 minutes.

As Howland has said in the pre-season, with the team's lack of depth, foul trouble is going to be trouble.

Thompson obviously has a green light on shooting, with the offense designed to get him looks. He has a lot of high screens set for him, giving him opportunities to shoot or create. He made on 1 of 6 from three and 7 of 21 overall.

Mike Fey looked jittery, missing a few open lay-ins because of happy feet (travels), finishing with 2 points and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes. Hollins also played 19 minutes, had 10 points, 6 rebounds, a couple of monster dunks and looked more active and effective. While Fey might be getting it done in practice, he seems to have a tendency to struggle a bit translating that performance into the games.

Ryan Walcott played 10 minutes spelling Bozeman and missed all three of his shots. His shot has definitely improved since last season and he also looked jittery in his stroke. Johnson made a couple of jumpers in playing 9 minutes.

Offensively, the team looks like it understands Howland's motion, moving well with the ball and knowing where the open looks should be, and how to get the ball inside. The ball movement was exceptional at times, sputtered at others, but overall was good. The team passing was excellent, though, with Bozeman, Thompson, Ariza and Morrison showing a great collective knack for finding open teammates around the basket. When EA turned on their zone defense a few times, the offense tended to stagnate a bit, lacking someone who can penetrate the zone. The offense was ragged at times, with some sloppy screens and cuts, but it's something that Howland will be able to tighten up. They also committed 20 turnovers, and when EA showed full-court pressure, it looked like there could be an issue with ballhandling.

Defensively, the Bruins looked good for spurts in their man-to-man. Their interior defense, with either Fey or Hollins, and Ariza guarding the paint, was tough. They were a bit slow-footed in their perimeter defense, switching off screens and finding open shooters, while generally the on-the-ball defense was good, mostly because of Bozeman and Morrison.

The team rebounded well, out-rebounding EA 43-34, but that's mostly because EA didn't put much effort into rebounding. As soon as they put up a shot, they retreated to defense pretty quickly.

So, it was a good effort and an acceptable performance for the first game of the Howland era. Howland himself didn't seem to noticeably act like it was only an exhibition game, riding the refs for their calls and never sitting down while micro-managing (in a good way) the game. He looked frustrated at times in how the team wouldn't get back on defense and their defensive effort. And flabbergasted by the free-throw shooting.

There was some obvious comraderie between the current UCLA players and the EA ex-Bruins. At the end of the game, with the last few seconds ticking away, Bozeman had the ball when Matt Barnes came up to hug him. As they stood at mid-court in a hug, Barnes then stole the ball from Bozeman and took it down the court before he stopped and laughed.

In attendance at the game were two very special guests: Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. The point guard and swingman had signed their National Letters of Intent to UCLA earlier in the day and were in very good moods. Farmar said, "I'm really excited. I just can't wait for this day next year."

Neither can we. Even though, if an exhibition game is any indication, there should be at least a few enjoyable moments in UCLA basketball between now and then.

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