Hot-Shooting UCLA Beats South Carolina, 89-77

The Bruins rebound after an embarrassing loss and play well -- and shoot incredibly, coming close to setting a school record for shooting percentage for a game...

The Bruins actually played decent defense for 20 minutes and relied on torrid shooting to keep ahead of South Carolina for the rest of the game, as UCLA defeated USC 89-77 in the consolation finals of the Maui Classic.

The Bruins lost Matt Barnes at the 18:18 mark of the first half with two fouls, then lost Dan Gadzuric for the rest of the game at the 16:18 mark due to an ankle sprain. However, losing Dan might've been the best thing that ever happened to UCLA, at least on Wednesday, because TJ Cummings came in and played the best game of his young career, firing in 25 points from all over the court and grabbing 9 rebounds in a surprisingly physical performance against some wide-body types in Tony Kitchings and Rolando Howell. The whole UCLA team was on fire for most of the night, with the Bruins shooting 72.9% from the field. In the first half, South Carolina was cold from the outside and shot only 36%, and the Bruins were able to forge a 48-30 halftime lead despite the requisite 10 turnovers (though 3 of those were 3-second calls derived from the wide lane).

In the second half, UCLA pretty much stopped playing defense and USC might have shot over 60% themselves, with Jamel Bradley doing serious damage from behind the arc. UCLA held a 23-point lead about midway through the second half, but the Gamecocks were able to take advantage of numerous turnovers and the fact that no one was guarding them, and managed to close the gap to within 11 points before finally falling under UCLA's free throw line stand in the waning minutes. UCLA wound up with 21 turnovers and 20 assists for the game. Again, their defense in the second half was pretty much non-existent. The Gamecock guards seemed able to drive the lane at will in the final 10 minutes and no one on UCLA bothered to contest the shots, let alone rotate over to cut off the penetration. Fortunately, South Carolina just isn't a very good team or else the Bruins could've been fighting for their lives down the stretch.

Jason Kapono buried a couple of 3s, one of them from about 25 feet out, to finish with 19 points. Billy Knight added 3 3s and had 12 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists (these are my stats, not the official stats). Dijon Thompson played well on offense, getting 10 points and 3 assists, but remains one of the team's worst offenders on the defensive end. Freshmen! Matt Barnes made up for his early foul trouble with 9 second half points, and added 4 rebounds and 3 steals. The Bruins finally put some pressure on a team with their press and Matt was the key factor in that regard, as usual. Andre Patterson got 6 points and 4 rebounds and scored major style points with his moves. Ced Bozeman continues to struggle with turnovers and the 1-4, but some of Ced's turnovers are caused by his teammates just not being ready for his passes. I had him down for 4 points and 5 assists. I also had Rico Hines down for 4 assists, I might have to check my math. Ryan Walcott made a brief appearance in the first half and got a brief assist, and he should probably play more. The Bruins need to get quicker. Ryan's no ShanTay Legans, but he seems to be quicker than anyone else the Bruins have out there and he isn't as mistake-prone as most of the other Bruins.

Again, this game didn't prove much. South Carolina will probably struggle to finish at .500 this year in the SEC. They're not a bad team, but they're a long way from being an NCAA Tournament team. So, UCLA flies away from Hawaii with 2 double-digit wins over average teams and one big blowout loss to a pretty good, but not great, team. Gadzuric was pretty much a non-factor for the entire tournament and that probably made a big difference. At least, I hope so. The Bruin's most obvious weaknesses appear to be defense, defense, defense, and turnovers. These are things they can work on. The Bruins definitely lack the great quickness that many of the top teams possess; that's something they can't work on, except in the recruiting wars. The Bruins weren't quick last year and lacked depth, but having Earl Watson around to energize and drive the team might have made a difference. It's certainly making a difference now. Whether it will make a difference by January 1 or March 1 is anybody's guess. The Bruin's most obvious strengths at this point are shooting the basketball and creating a lot of easy shot opportunities (the size of their guards and wings plays a big factor in this, it's just hard for people to get a hand up on all these 6-7 guys), plus a lot of options on offense. It will be interesting to see how many points the Bruins will score when Gadzuric is 100% and the freshmen have a few more games under their belts.

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