Ball State Rolls Over UCLA

One the one hand, it was pretty bad. On the other, it's early and there's a lot of hoops to play. The game showed UCLA's glaring weaknesses, and the season will hinge on whether the Bruins can mask them well enough from here on out...

Ball State pretty much wiped the floor with a bug called "UCLA" last night, 91-73. The boys from Indiana showed those slow-footed west coast show-boaters how to play the game. Actually, the Bruins finally got a harsh dose of reality after weeks of practicing against themselves, only to discover Tuesday night that just because Dijon Thompson can't blow by Matt Barnes in practice, and just because Rico Hines can't run a fast break after Ced Bozeman takes a bad shot doesn't mean that a real team, with real players, won't capitalize on errors, execute the fundamentals and punish a team for not doing the same. Allegedly, this is why people play games this early. Personally, I think it's NCAA greed, pure and simple, but that's another issue entirely.

The Cardinals from Muncie, Indiana, seemed to sleep-walk for most of the first half, as if they were playing a real team. Then they realized that their opponents weren't playing any defense, boxing out or rotating back after jacking it up. In addition, the team whose jersey was labeled "UCLA" (perhaps a trademark infringement that the University might wish to vigorously pursue) seemed eager to throw the ball out of bounds or else violate bizarre pre-season experimental rules that no one, not even the refs, could figure out… well, besides Ball State, that is. The Bruins committed 23 turnovers (my stats, not official), compared to the Cardinals' stingy 3 give-ups. Indeed, Ball State committed only 1 turnover in the entire second half, and that was with 1:03 to go in the ball game.

Really, it seems almost inappropriate to write about any Bruins. Let's talk about the good team. Patrick (exqueeze me, "P") Jackson, the lightning bug 5-10 guard, did whatever he wanted, and this guy wanted to hurt the Bruins in the worst way. He fired in 23 points and dished out 5 assists, with nary a turnover. He buried 5 treys. He'll never play in the NBA, but he's sure fun to watch. Theron Smith, he of future NBA fame, scored 22 points and played a key offensive role in keeping Ball State close throughout the first half and then contributing to the mass grave digging for the Bruins' coffin in the second half. 7-footer Lonnie Jones might've made himself a million dollars by scoring 14 points and adding 7 rebounds and 5 blocks in front of a dozen NBA scouts. Chris Williams played through double and multiple leg cramps to finish with 12 points and 4 rebounds. Zach Willingham added 7 points, and Robert Owens got 5/5 in a strong performance. Go Cardinals! Yeah!

Oh… gee, whiz, this is a UCLA site, isn't it? I guess we have to write about THOSE LOSERS. Well, fine. Let's see if I can think of anything nice to say. Um, Jason Kapono got 26 points (17 in the first half), to go with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Billy Knight had 11 points and 6 rebounds, but sucked on defense. TJ Cummings got 13 points and 6 rebounds, but REALLY sucked on defense. Matt Barnes grabbed 8 rebounds (6 points) and actually seemed to play hard, though his defense was pretty bad as well. Andre Patterson (4 points, 4 rebounds) and Dijon Thompson (5 points, 6 rebounds) played well for freshmen, if one overlooks their atrocious defensive play and total cluelessness in running the 1-4 offense. Dan Gadzuric had 4 assists. Hey, that's positive. Isn't it? It's probably best to ignore Ced Bozeman (2 assists, 4 turnovers, zero points, 1 air ball) and Rico Hines (2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, zero points, 1 air ball). My mother always said that if you don't have anything nice to say about someone, you shouldn't say anything at all, unless you write for a web site. The Bruins probably shot close to 50% from the field, which is always a good sign… provided that you remember to guard the guys at the other end of the floor as well.

Basically, the Bruins got their heads handed to them and their butts whipped. Ball State, a quick, energetic, poised team, simply drove and dished in the halfcourt and capitalized off numerous turnovers, burying 3s, getting easy dunks over and over, beating the Bruins to the offensive glass at will, and actually moving their feet on defense, no doubt startling the Bruins into making all those turnovers.

Now, can we actually draw any conclusions from this game, besides the fact that all of us would have much rather watched Buffy having hot sex with Spike instead of wasting our time on this charade of a mockery of a sham of a basketball game? Yes. UCLA lacks the great quickness that characterizes most college teams. What a surprise! UCLA's defense sucks. In particular, UCLA's interior defense is horrible, its rotation against dribble penetration is terrible, and its press is execrable. UCLA makes a lot of mistakes trying to execute an offense (the 1-4) which is counter-intuitive to what most high school players learn these days (which is nothing, or next to nothing, unless they play in Indiana, in which case they learn a motion from the time they are 4 years old). UCLA has a freshman point guard and two more freshmen who are playing key roles this season.

Does this mean that UCLA fans should give up all hope and assume that all of those predictions about a Pac-10 title and a Final 4 appearance were nothing but stardust, and that Steve Lavin's coaching is no better than what dreams are made of? Hardly. It's November. In the good old days, John Wooden scheduled The Citadel on December 1 and kept his fingers crossed that he would have 4 more weeks to actually have his team playing well in time for conference to start. Plus, he knew his games only got on TV on a local basis at 11 PM. With TV money and the mysterious RPI dictating schedules these days, teams play way ahead of themselves. UCLA has 4 starters back. Great. They lost their senior point guard, they have a freshman point guard, and like everyone else (or most everyone else), it will take them at least 4-6 weeks of actually playing actual opponents to figure out what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong and learning therefrom. Let's all remember what the Bruins looked like against Georgia Tech last year and where they ended up before we start making bold predictions for the rest of the season.

UCLA got a taste of what it's like playing a team that is quicker than they are at almost every position, and they got creamed because they weren't ready to play with the intensity, poise and grit necessary to negate that quality. Arizona was quicker at UCLA at every position last year, and it didn't help Arizona at Pauley. The same was true of USC and other quality teams who lost to UCLA last year. Quickness isn't dispositive in March, unless the quick guy is named Jason Williams. We all knew going into this year that UCLA wasn't quick. Now the Bruins know it for themselves, and they will adjust accordingly, the way most basketball players do. Funny how that works out. In the meantime, all of us fans can scream about another blowout loss, and I can hope that UCLA beats the OTHER USC tomorrow so the Bruins can stick to my prediction of 2-1 to start the first 3 games.

Remember, UCLA will win the Pac-10, go 32-6 this year, and lose to Duke in the national championship game. You heard it here first…

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