Bruins' Half-Effort Not Enough

UCLA lost 67-52 to a more experienced, disciplined, talented and athletic Stanford team Thusrday. But when the Bruins acually competed in the second half they held their own...

Driving up to Palo Alto yesterday, I was talking with a friend about the possibility of a Bruin upset. After all, UCLA had won twice previously when they were 18-point underdogs at Maples and last night the Bruins were only getting 13 ½ points from the Cardinal.

Unfortunately, any thoughts of a UCLA upset were pretty much wiped away when we arrived at Maples and were reminded, after the first two minutes, that Ryan Hollins, Michael Fey and T.J. Cummings do not equal Dan Gadzuric, Jerome Moiso and Matt Barnes.

The frontline, of course, was not the only reason that Stanford blew out the Bruins 657-52 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate. But when you compare the Bruins teams that pulled off those upsets vs. the current squad, it's startling just how much the talent has dropped off. Granted, those previous teams didn't get the most out of their talent but, on any given night, that talent was capable of overcoming the lack of coaching.

This year's group is obviously being coached and there has been progress from a year ago. But the bad habits that were developed over several years don't go away with a couple months of instruction. Basketball is a game of habits and the good habits you see in a team like Stanford – tough defense, strong fundamentals, unselfishness, etc. – weren't acquired in a couple months. Mike Montgomery has built a program over time that now consistently plays with good habits. And it also doesn't hurt that he's brought in some pretty talented players. Like Arizona, this Stanford team features a starting lineup that is better than every one of UCLA's starters. No Bruin would start for Stanford. As for the bench….yikes.

During the dark years of the Lavin era, we often wrote that UCLA had no foundation. When things got tough, they had no foundation of discipline, toughness and fundamentals to fall back on. They were a team that completely relied on their talent. This Bruin squad is similar – but there's no talent to fall back on. The foundation that Howland and Co. are trying to build is not there yet. So when things go poorly, as they did in the first half last night at Maples, the Bruins revert to their bad habits of the Lavin years. They get discouraged, they stop playing hard, they don't make the extra pass, fail to get back in transition, don't block out….you get the idea.

The first half of last night's game was disappointing for a Bruin fan. Not only because Stanford was up by 21 at halftime. The ways the Bruins reacted to the adversity was particularly discouraging. The Bruins showed no competitive spirit or heart. Their body language was bad. They basically looked like a bunch of guys who didn't want to compete. If any Bruin is thinking that he has a chance of playing in the NBA someday, he better hope that no NBA scouts or GMs get a look at tape from the first half of this game.

However, in the second half, UCLA did come out and compete. Obviously, Stanford eased up a bit with a 20-point lead. Most college teams have a tough time maintaining their intensity with that kind of lead and Stanford is no exception. But it wasn't only about Stanford's play; UCLA started playing with more energy and focus. The Bruins finally started blocking out and did a decent job on the boards. The defense tightened up in the half-court and the transition baskets pretty much stopped completely for the Cardinal in the second half. At the offensive end, UCLA had better ball movement and did a better job of attacking Stanford's defense.

It's unfortunate that UCLA didn't come to play in the first half – it might have been an interesting game if they had played for forty minutes. Because while Stanford is more talented than UCLA, they don't have the overwhelming athleticism that Arizona showed against the Bruins. If UCLA can keep the Cardinal from dominating the boards, and not give up the easy transition baskets, the rematch at Pauley could be a much more competitive game. Brian Morrison was sorely missed last night – for his toughness and athleticism as much as his shooting – and his return in the rematch will be welcomed.

This Bruin team clearly didn't half the horses to spot Stanford a 21-point lead in the first half and then come back to win the game. But at least they played hard the entire second half – even when it was obvious they weren't going to pull off a miracle comeback. After playing three consecutive terrible halves – including the Arizona game – the Bruins finally got back to the way they played when they started 5-0 in conference. Whether this was truly a step forward in their development will be determined at Cal on Saturday. Hopefully, the players learned something from last night's game and they'll apply the lesson against the Bears.

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