It's not easy for a basketball team to be both boring and ugly, but the UCLA Bruins managed the double-double in beating UC-Riverside by 15 points at Pauley Pavilion Wednesday night in front of a somnambulistic crowd.
UCLA played a zone defense the entire first half, packing it in at the start and eventually extending it when they realized that the Highlanders had no inclination to get the ball inside or actually run any plays besides tossing it around the perimeter. Sometimes, the Bruins pressed and sometimes they didn't press. Sometimes the press worked, and sometimes UC-Riverside just threw the ball away all on their own. The Bruins did generate some steals out of their zone, especially when they started extending it outward.
Offensively, the Bruins looked pretty awful in the first half. They committed a number of unforced turnovers (Dan Gadzuric was a particular miscreant in this regard, but Rico Hines and Dijon Thompson helped him out), seemed unable to get the ball inside for any kind of sustained attack around the basket despite a big height advantage, and Jason Kapono found himself a marked man wherever he went. Jason wasn't able to get one look from 3 the entire first half, and the Bruins won't beat many teams unless he is getting at least 4 good looks from behind the arc per half. The Bruins trailed early, 16-10, but clawed their way to a 28-28 tie in what was a truly forgettable performance.
UCLA started out the second half in a man-to-man, but Riverside quickly got the ball inside and scored easily on successive plays and that put UCLA back into a zone. However, unlike the first half, when the Highlanders did a fairly decent job of hitting their 3s, they went stone-cold after the first 5 minutes of the second half and stayed that way for the next 10 minutes. With Matt Barnes, Jason Kapono, Billy Knight, Rico Hines and Andre Patterson doing particularly good work in staying active in the zone, the Bruins got a series of stops, as Riverside continued to bomb away from the outside. Whenever they tried to go inside, which was rarely, it seemed one Bruin or another was always getting their hands on the ball.
At the same time, on offense, UCLA started getting some penetration, especially by Matt Barnes and Dijon Thompson, as well as some patient, crisp ball reversal, and as a result Jason Kapono and Billy Knight started getting some open looks and burying 3s. Rico Hines, of all people, got the ball inside to Gadzuric twice for dunks, and TJ Cummings, Jason Kapono, Andre Patterson and Matt Barnes did a good job on the offensive glass. As a result, with UCLA up 38-37, they went on a 16-0 run, by far the biggest run of the season for the Bruins, and they led 54-37 with about 9 minutes left. Riverside never got closer than 10 from there on out despite heating up from the outside again towards the end of the game.
Jason Kapono led UCLA with 18 points, 6 rebounds and only 1 turnover in 37 minutes. Dan Gadzuric, who wasn't supposed to start, started anyway and got 11 points and 10 rebounds, but shot two air balls inside of two feet and missed two dunks, and added an ignominious 5 turnovers as well. Matt Barnes played his most energetic game of the season and looked more like the Matt we remember from last year. He had 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Billy Knight added 11 points and 5 rebounds.
Off the bench, Andre Patterson got 7 points, 5 rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes. FREE ANDRE PATTERSON! Does anybody besides me think this guy should be playing a lot more? TJ Cummings (6 points on 1-7 shooting, 3 rebounds) and Dijon Thompson (3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists) played uninspired basketball, as if they lacked confidence and energy. Dijon's defense was about as bad as it can get. Ryan Walcott saw 9 minutes of action, played good d and cut through Riverside's press attempt as if it wasn't there, but he missed a lay-up attempt by about 4 feet. I kid you not.
Poor Rico Hines might be working on some kind of NCAA record. He has now played 84 minutes without scoring a point. With his 0-5 performance tonight, which included missing 4 shots within 2 feet of the basket, he's now 0-12 from the field for the season. He did get 5 rebounds and 3 steals, and he played with a lot of energy on defense, and he made those two good passes to Dan, but this is starting to get painful.
The Bruins only shot 30.8% from the field in the first half and 36.2% for the game. They only managed 7 assists as a team, compared to the usual 18 turnovers. The UCLA offense might've been working in Maui, but it certainly hasn't worked very well for the last two games. On the other hand, they rebounded UC-Riverside 48-30, caused (or at least got credit for) 20 turnovers and held UC-Riverside to 34.7% shooting from the floor. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Riverside just isn't a very good shooting team, and the Bruin zone limited Vili Morton to just one shot the entire game, so it would have been hard for the Highlanders to win this game in any event. The Bruins can chalk this one up as a victory, but not necessarily as an accomplishment.
If UCLA plays against Alabama the way they played last night, they will get creamed by 25 points (although Alabama is a team that is very susceptible to a zone, so we'll see). The Bruins need to get more inside scoring, and they need it from guys who will also pass the ball back out to the jump shooters if they draw a double-team. I say play Rico less, and TJ, Matt and Andre more. Use Matt or Andre in a 4-frontcourt alignment if need be. Rico just isn't producing. The Bruin future, their immediate future, will depend more on the development of Andre, Dijon and Ryan, and that will only come from playing them. Matt and TJ are the two best post passers. With a zone defense to mask some of the younger players' defensive deficiencies, the Bruins need better floor balance between their inside and outside attack, and Rico just doesn't seem to fit into that picture. I'm rooting for him to do better, but I'm just not certain that we're going to see better.