UCLA was defeated by Pepperdine, 85-78, at Pauley Pavilion, in accordance with a script that is by now all too familiar to Bruin fans.
Repeating its bad habits from last year, UCLA came out flat and Pepperdine dashed to the early leads, 4-0 and 10-4. Billy Knight carried the Bruins early with 3 3s, then Jason Kapono bombed in 4 3s to propel the Bruins to a precarious 36-33 halftime lead. Both players had 16 at the half. Along the way, freshmen Dijon Thompson (4 points, 2 assists), Andre Patterson (2 points, 5 rebounds) and Ced Bozeman (2 points, 4 assists) played with zest and energy, as did TJ Cummings (4 points, 4 rebounds). Matt Barnes and Dan Gadzuric were truly awful. Nonetheless, UCLA actually played pretty solid defense in the first half, holding Pepperdine to 37.8% from the field and 23.1% from 3, and didn't turn the ball over too much. However, the Bruins' own shooting woes (a lot of in and outers) kept the game close. That, and the awful play from the post players.
In the second half, Pepperdine went to an old-fashioned weave. Isolating Devin Montgomery (10 points, 5 assists), Micah McKinney (4 points, 2 assists), Jimmy Miggins, Terrance Johnson (12 points, a real talent), Craig Lewis and Boomer Brazzle (14 points) repeatedly, the Waves got swells of easy shots and a virtual torrent of penetration into the lane. Miggins (20 points, 11 rebounds), in particular, was a one-man Tsunami inside, posting up Matt Barnes and TJ Cummings at will. Andre Patterson never got the chance to guard him, as he was apparently punished for his terrific play in the first half by being benched for almost the entire second half. Although some excellent play from Kapono and Thompson kept the Bruins treading water with the Waves, UCLA was never able to take control of the game. Their best chance seemed to come with UCLA up 70-68. Pepperdine ran its 3rd and 4th high pick and roll in a row for Lewis (18 points). He'd buried two 3s, then Dijon Thompson figured it out, stole the ball and drove the length of the floor for the layup to make it 72-68. On the next play, Paul Westphal pushed his luck, ran that play again, and this time Dan picked it clean. However, Dan missed the dunk and Pepperdine came back to hit a 3 at the other end, so UCLA went from what should have been a 6-point lead to a 1-point lead.
That seemed to finish UCLA. That sequence started a 9-0 Pepperdine run, putting the Waves up 77-72 with 2:30 to go. From there on out, it was a free throw shooting contest, and the Waves won. Hence, the final margin. The Bruins looked tired and uninspired and lacked poise down the stretch.
Comments: If Dan (back, ankle, has missed 5 of last 6 days of practice) and Matt (ankle) are hurt, why play them? Andre Patterson and TJ Cummings play with more energy and fire anyway, so why not just give them the minutes? Matt had 3 points and 3 rebounds in 16 minutes. Dan had 3 points and 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in 24 minutes. Andre had 2 points, 5 rebounds and vicious pine (only 7 minutes of PT) to reward his hard work. I vote for the guy who was on a pace to get 15 rebounds in 22 minutes and was actually playing good defense. Call me old-fashioned. TJ's shot was off, but he was solid with 9 points and 6 rebounds and only 1 turnover in 30 minutes.
Jason and Billy can't carry the team, especially by trying to create one on one, as they tried to do down the stretch in this game. Jason wound up with 28 points (5-8 from 3) and 7 rebounds, and Billy had 21 points (3-5 from 3, 8-10 from the line) and 2 excellent steals. The strength of this team, besides, height, is these two jump shooters. At this point in the season, it's unclear whether the 1-4 offense is generating enough open looks for these guys. Pepperdine got wise to UCLA's offense as the game wore on. At the same time, UCLA got less wise to Pepperdine's offense, as the Waves shot a blistering 59.4% from the field in the second half. The Bruins just aren't getting the ball in deep enough to inside-out people. They worked on this all week in practice. Maybe Dan and Matt are just hurt. Maybe practice doesn't help. That could be a problem.
Ced Bozeman had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 24 minutes. Dijon Thompson had 8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 turnovers. Fine, they're turning it over. Play them anyway. Play Ryan Walcott, too. He actually fed the post and ran two fast-breaks flawlessly in the first half in 5 minutes. He missed a shot in the second half and got yanked after one minute.
Um, don't you zone a weave? That's a high school offense…
At least so far, UCLA's press isn't working. Pepperdine made only 9 turnovers (compared to UCLA's 15). Pepperdine's press looked a lot better than UCLA's, and Pepperdine has a lot more new guys than UCLA does. Of course, Pepperdine is also quicker than UCLA. UCLA's 14-25 from the FT line didn't help. Then again, Pepperdine was only 11-16.
UCLA wound up shooting only 41.2% from the floor. Both Ball State and Pepperdine were able to solve UCLA's 1-4 offense fairly easily and make them look mechanical, slow and predictable. Earl Watson was a SR who fit well into the system last year. Perhaps freshmen Bozeman, Thompson and Patterson can play this system and just need another month to get it into gear. I don't think UCLA can run motion with Jason and Billy; it just doesn't make sense. But if Dan and Matt don't get healthy/step up soon, the Bruins' offense might not make sense in any event.
It's fashionable around these parts to start a new coaching search and proclaim doom and gloom for the Bruins at such times. We'll also start reading about how Lavin's teams always play their best with their backs against the wall. So, if UCLA beats Alabama in the Wooden Classic, everyone will say, "Hey, Lavin pulled out another one."
My take is, at this point, UCLA's backs aren't against any wall (if there was a wall behind them, the other team wouldn't be getting so many easy layups). But their feet are nailed to the floor on defense, and their two senior post players had either better figure out if their minds can triumph over matter, or else they better get ready to get benched. The Bruins clearly have a lot of work to do before they can start talking about being a top team.
Next up, UC-Riverside.
Then comes nationally-ranked Alabama in the Wooden Classic. That will be the real litmus test for UCLA heading into conference, which would start less than two weeks later.