UCLA defeated EA Sports 102-77 in an exhibition game to open up a 2001-2002 basketball season fraught with high expectations.
This game certainly didn't confirm any of those expectations, although I recall UCLA started out its '95 National Championship season by losing its opening exhibition game to a bunch of Australians, so the truth is there isn't much truth to be gleaned from a game like this. You just go back over the game tape, try to figure out what Matt Barnes and Dan Gadzuric thought they were doing, and hope you come out of this type of game without any major injuries.
Speaking of the Devil…
Ced Bozeman got body-slammed to the floor near the start of the second half and sat out the rest of the game with a bruised back. We're told it's not serious, but he could be stiff for a few days. So, we all got to see UCLA play without Bozeman for 19 minutes against a team with 3 really quick 25-year old guards who all started and scored in double figures at D-1 schools during their careers. I mean, that's what we all wanted to see, right? Naturally, the Bruins totally fell apart.
Actually, they were up by 10 when Ced went out and won by 25, so they didn't exactly fall apart. Jason Kapono, Dijon Thompson and Ryan Walcott shared the point guard duties and did just fine. Indeed, UCLA was only up by 14 when Jason went out of the game with his 4th foul and 12:43 still left to play, and UCLA just kept extending its lead without either Ced or Jason. Either EA Sports is really bad, or UCLA is really deep.
Actually, it was more like a combination of EA Sports just wearing down, and UCLA being really deep. This was EA Sports' 7th game in 8 days, so you can't blame them for tiring, making 26 turnovers and only hitting 7-27 from 3 (they've been shooting over 40% on their current tour). I'm not sure it was the UCLA press or defense that wore them down or caused all those turnovers, but we'll give the Bruins a little credit.
UCLA had a very balanced attack. Jason Kapono was obviously the featured player in the offense, which is probably a good sign, and he finished with 18 points, 5 assists and 3 steals in 28 minutes. Billy Knight was very solid all-around, scoring in every way possible and hustling well on defense, and he got 14 points and 2 steals in 23 minutes and played with a lot of poise. Andre Patterson also scored 14 points in just 13 minutes, including two nasty dunks, and snagged 6 rebounds in a terrific performance against a team which usually had two 6-9 240 former D-1 starters on the floor at all times. He snaked his way around people or leaped over them with his long reach and will likely be a lot more effective inside this year than some people might think given his statistical measurements (6-6 and ½, 195).
TJ Cummings was solid on offense, scoring 10 points in 14 minutes, inside and out, but only grabbed 3 rebounds and got shoved around inside by the EA Sports big men. Dijon Thompson was solid with 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 24 minutes. He did not shoot the ball well, but he played a lot of point guard and played with poise, and the team seemed to settle down when Dijon was in the game. His impact seemed bigger than his stats. It's a good bet we're going to see all three freshmen play a lot this season.
Dan Gadzuric and Matt Barnes played very mediocre games. Dan had his knee support on, which is usually a sign of tendinitis flaring up, but let's not make excuses until we hear it from the staff. He faced some solid players tonight, but they aren't as solid as a lot of the big men he'll face this year (well, most of the big men he'll face are 6-8 or shorter, but better). Dan did play a better second half and got 12 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes, and he hit a couple of smooth jumpers and looked oddly comfortable on the FT line with a nice stroke, but he played poor defense and went up in a weak fashion a couple of times inside. Matt seemingly made more than his 4 credited turnovers, and really didn't do much, though he did lead the Bruins with 9 rebounds, to go with 7 points, 4 assists and 5 steals. I guess he did a lot, actually, it just seemed that he wasn't being too productive because of his lack of scoring, those unforced turnovers and, again, poor halfcourt defense (not rotating to cut off the penetration, not bodying up to the big men). If UCLA is to win big this year, Dan, Matt and TJ are going to have to a much better job of rotating over when someone penetrates the perimeter defense. UCLA will see a lot of penetration this year, just like last year. Of course, defensive rotation is usually the slowest part of a team's game in preseason, so no one should panic over an exhibition game.
Ryan Walcott was trigger-happy in his college debut, going 1-4 from 3 (he's been shooting over 50% from 3 in scrimmages and has the green light), but more importantly, he had 3 assists and zero turnovers in 10 minutes (7 minutes in the second half) and played a very heady game, including good defense against quick 5-10 Brooklyn McLinn and breaking EA Sports' own press rather easily (and more easily than Dijon or Matt). It's still way too early to predict if Ryan will be part of the regular rotation this year, but I thought he played a pretty solid first game. Rico Hines got 4 points in 18 minutes and hustled, but he seemed to be trying to do some things that are outside of his game. Josiah Johnson got in for 7 minutes and showed his sweet touch with a couple of Js, including a 17-footer on the baseline. And the student section has a new hero: 6-10 280 colossus John Hoffart, who delighted the crowd with his 3 excellent assists in 4 minutes. John also had 2 points and 3 rebounds in those 4 minutes. Actually, John was hurting those big EA Sports Cs in a way that Gadzuric hadn't done for most of the night.
EA Sports lived up to their billing as mad bombers, but couldn't find the hole as McLinn went 2-11 from 3, Jason Crowe (another ex-Matador) went 2-8 from 3 and Jabari Johnson went 1-5 from 3. Of course, shooting over all those 6-7 perimeter guys probably didn't help. Crowe led EA Sports with 20 points, McLinn got 16, and former New Mexico starter Damion Walker added 14 points. 6-9 bruiser F Lee Murdock had 9 points and 10 rebounds and outplayed Gadzuric on the night, and former Oregon Duck starter Julius Hicks added 8 points and 4 rebounds. Even former Pepperdine bruiser Nantambu Willingham put in an unscheduled performance (he wasn't on the roster), which was as ineffective as it was unexpected.
The best part of the game was the Bruins' assist total: 26. Pretty impressive, even for an exhibition game. UCLA continued to show some of the best inbounds plays in college basketball. The Bruins outrebounded EA Sports 44-29 and made 54.9% of their FG attempts, which mainly reflected a lot more dunks and layups than we saw in a typical game last year. I wonder why…
Oh, yeah: Cedric Bozeman. He made some freshman mistakes early, dribbling into traffic twice. He also made some dazzling moves and some simple, accurate passes to the right people. He got 4 assists in the first half, but his second half lasted about a minute, so he didn't get to pad his totals. He finished with 6 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers in 9 minutes. Now, if you project that out to 27 minutes per game, Ced will average 18 points and 12 assists per game this season, but I think we're jumping ahead of ourselves here. Let's just see if he's good to go for the Global Sports exhibition game next Wednesday. GS is a stronger team than EA Sports, more of a muscle, slow-down team with great size and power inside, so it should be interesting. Oh, yeah: And UCLA fans are really going to HATE some of the players on this team…