Bruins Fail to Meet Challenge

UCLA lost another chance to gain some respect in losing to OSU Thursday night, 65-56. With those chances continuing to dwindle, the Bruins played more like a team resigned to its fate...

UCLA lost a game that was critical to its Pac-10 tournament hopes Thursday, falling to Oregon State, 65-56 (For a rundown on UCLA's Pac-10 tourney chances, go here).

The game went pretty much as you might have expected. Some UCLA players exerted some effort, while others didn't. Some sustained effort longer, while some did it in just short spurts.

No matter, it wasn't near enough to beat the Beavers, who were playing for their Pac-10 tournament lives.

It's so obvious when this team decides it wants to play. There is marked difference in their energy and intensity level. Perhaps really the only time the entire team played hard collectively was in the last several minutes of the first half. They actually looked like they had some quickness and energy on defense, smothering OSU's offense, causing turnovers and playing physically on offense.

But that was just a couple of minutes.

You know the talent level at UCLA is down when two walk-on caliber players, point guard Ryan Walcott and guard Janou Rubin, are getting significant minutes in the backcourt simultaneously. It's especially emphasized when the TV announcers are commenting about how the two of them bring advantages to the floor – over the scholarship starters.

Dijon Thompson had one of his best games of the season. He not only was hitting his outside shot (going 7 for 9 from three), but showed some intensity on the defensive end and rebounding. Yes, he did make some bonehead mistakes, particularly two turnovers from horrible passes within about 30 seconds of each other in the first half. He did make up for the turnovers with three steals for the game. And we'll trade some turnovers for Thompson playing with intensity any day.

For a senior having his swan song, T.J. Cummings appears more to be a wounded duck. He doesn't play hard for longer than a few minutes at a time, and if his shot isn't going down, like it wasn't for a majority of this game, he's a liability on the floor, on the defensive end and on the boards. You'd think that, for Cummings, his pipe dreams of playing in the NBA would at least inspire some selfish effort. It'd be interesting to get in the head of Cummings – like a new film called Being T.J. Cummings -- and see what's really going on up there.

Cedric Bozeman played one of his least effectual games of the season. Getting in foul trouble, he played only 25 minutes, had only two points, one rebound, four assists and two turnovers. He looks, more than just about anyone on the court, like he has thrown in the towel on the season. His body language is screaming: "Please put me out of my misery." He looks to be playing with little concentration, too, making silly fouls and careless decisions and passes. But he did get one steal. So Bozeman did improve his steal-to-minutes ratio – getting one for the last 25 minutes of play.

Trevor Ariza didn't play particularly well, not shooting well and making a few poor decisions. But he did play hard, and many times was the guy who was leading the charge on defense. It's a testament to the average talent level of the team: when Ariza can only get seven points and six rebounds, the team looks dead offensively and on the boards.

Ryan Hollins, Brian Morrison and the walkons (Rubin included) play with effort when they're on the floor. So does Michael Fey. Morrison's lack of impact is due to his rustiness and injury, but the talent level of the rest is stunning. In the preview of this game, I stated that I thought UCLA had more talent than OSU, but Oregon State has four or five players that, arguably, you might take over most of UCLA's roster. And this is Oregon State. The Beavers. OSU's top three wings, Chris Stephens, J.S. Nash and Angelo Tsagarakis, outscored UCLA's top three wings for this game of Dijon Thompson, Trevor Ariza and Janou Rubin. And that was with Thompson getting 25 points. Stephens, Nash and Tsagarakis are very, very average Pac-10 players that UCLA wouldn't ever recruit. In fact, Nash loved UCLA in high school but UCLA didn't recruit him. I'm not advocating that UCLA should have, but merely pointing out that players that aren't usually UCLA's level are now better than most of the current UCLA roster.

Another game, and another juxtaposition of this team next to a team like OSU, and the takeways I had watching the game were:

-- The stark, stunning realization of just how limited the talent is on this team this year.

-- The stark, stunning realization that the lack of heart of many players on this team is bordering on some severe psychosis (or should we call it "pathology?". And even though a coach and his staff are ultimately responsible for motivating his players, this is an extreme case of players who aren't able to be motivated. Again, what is going on in T.J. Cummings' brain that, in his money season, he can't get up to play just two games a week?

-- The stark, stunning realization of just how much of an impact the incoming freshmen class will make next season in just the very simple terms of 1) effort and heart and 2) depth of talent. While it might not turn the team into a 20-game winner next year, it will relieve us from having to watch a team with an embarrassing lack of talent and, most importantly, heart.

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