UCLA Escapes & Sweeps

You can look at it two ways, depending on your point of view: UCLA had to come from behind to beat lowly Washington State but, on the other hand, they swept the state of Washington...

Okay. Fine. OSU is up 56-53 against ASU with 35 second left at Corvallis and Fox Sports terminated the broadcast for a Hockey pre-game report. Whatever. I guess I'll write this story…

UCLA got a little boost from the officiating as they overcame still another in a series of noxious first half performances to score a come-from-behind win against the normally hapless Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Washington, this afternoon. The victory, however ugly, does lift the 19th-ranked Bruins' record to 7-2 overall, 2-0 in the Pac-10. The Cougs fall to 4-5 overall, 0-1 in the Pac-10. The Bruins have now won 5 straight games since their ignominious loss to the Pepperdine Waves at Pauley Pavilion on November 28th.

Actually, this game resembled the Pepperdine game for long stretches. WSU's trio of Marcus Moore, 6-6 SO PG, Jerry McNair, 6-2 JR SG and Mike Bush, 6-6 SR SG/SF, were able to use their superior quickness to drive through the Bruins' defense over and over, either to score on short floaters in the lane or off 3s after Marcus kicked the ball outside. In the first half, UCLA gave up repeated open looks to the Cougars. On the other end of the floor, Jason Kapono seemed to have tired legs and forced up some bad shots from 3, as did Billy Knight. Both players were shooting without squaring up or getting their shots within the rhythm of the offense. And Dan Gadzuric was so bad at both ends that Lavin yanked him less than 4 minutes into the game and didn't re-insert him for over 6 minutes. Matt Barnes hit some nice short jumpers, but took too many long jumpers. Gadzuric and TJ Cummings were again very passive on defense, not rotating over on penetration and providing almost zero help for their teammates. I wasn't really tracking turnovers or FG%, but I doubt that UCLA hit even 40% of their shots, and I had a vague idea that both teams had about 5-6 turnovers apiece, which isn't enough for the opponent and you're UCLA and you're playing a zone and not shooting well. Actually, UCLA played both a zone and a man, and neither worked. Their defense was just too extended to deal with WSU's quickness advantage on the perimeter.

WSU led 37-29 at halftime and seemed in control of the game with their hot shooting, easy penetration and switching defenses (they played every defense in the book out there), despite some foul trouble that resulted from some odd calls by the officials. Now, it's true that WSU was jacking up a lot of outside shots and UCLA was going inside a lot, but some of those calls smelled. Perhaps we can start a new conspiracy theory about how Lavin is controlling the refs. Of course, Matt Barnes got a mysterious bloody nose, and UCLA took about 5 charging fouls that were called the other way, so who knows? Anyway, in the second half, UCLA came out in a fullcourt press and it seemed to energize the Bruins for awhile. With Dan Gadzuric starting to dunk it or lay it in off some nice post moves (huh?), the Bruins clawed back to tie it at 43-43. Then Marcus Moore put on a one man exhibition of great basketball, just taking over the game as he scored, soared and dished his team back to a 9-point lead, 55-46.

At that point, with 11:32 left to go, Coach Graham decided to give Marcus a rest. Announcer Marques Johnson, even though he is a former Bruin, tried to warn Graham of what would happen, saying that Marcus might be cold when he came back into the game. Indeed, Marcus, who had 15 points and 8 assists up until that point, only got 2 points and zero assists for the rest of the game after coming back in shortly after the 11 minute mark. Hey, you can't say that Johnson didn't try to warn them. More importantly, the Bruins just kept taking it inside and taking it inside. Gadzuric got the ball over and over again, drawing repeated fouls. Dan wound up hitting 5-6 FTs in the second half. Billy Knight also took it to the rack again and again, also drawing numerous fouls, and he hit 6-8 FTs in the final 11 minutes. Billy's ability to take people off the dribble has really improved from last year. He's not quick, but he's sneaky and long.

With the Bruins finally playing with poise and firing on all cylinders (hey, welcome back, Jason Kapono, we missed you!), as well as causing some turnovers with their press and zone, they charged back (well, ground their way back is more accurate, the Bruins aren't a charging team, they're a grinding team) to close the gap and finally tied the game at 59-59 at the 6:47 mark, then took the lead for the first time (since they were up 2-0) at the 2:40 mark, 68-67, on two Gad FTs. Marcus Moore promptly got the lead back for the Cougars with 2 foul shots, but the Cougars were really done. Jason and Billy were hitting 3s, Matt and Dan were scoring inside, and the Bruins were doing a great job of passing the ball. They'd finally solved WSU's switching defenses, and it had become a scoring contest instead of a defensive contest. The Bruins scored 50 points in the second half.

Of course, it helped that Marcus Moore fouled out at the 1:55 mark, and everyone else on the Cougars was in foul trouble too, but that was mainly because the Bruins were getting the ball inside so much and because the Cougars were grabbing Jason's and Billy's jerseys pretty blatantly every time UCLA tried to in-bounds the ball or run their offense, and the refs actually called it a few times down the stretch. I don't have the turnover stats, but I suspect UCLA wound up with around 10 turnovers total and WSU might have made close to 10 turnovers in the second half alone, and that also played a big part in the Bruins' comeback. From the 11:32 mark, UCLA outscored WSU by 14 points. What is it with the Bruins and the second half? And the first half? Harrick's early teams used to play this way. They need to find a better way of getting off (and getting Jason Kapono off) in the first half. UCLA lucked out by getting two soft road games to begin the conference, but they can't count on coming back against good teams. On the other hand, the Bruins are now winning when they play poorly, rather than losing when they poorly. I guess that's positive. Isn't it?

One hopeful sign for UCLA: Andre Patterson finally got rewarded with some PT. Andre has played well in stretches before, only to find vicious pine waiting for him as payment. This afternoon, Lavin left Andre in for a long stretch and the young man produced, getting 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 key block. He actually blocked two shots, but the other was called a held ball. TJ Cummings has a sweet shot, but he plays zero defense and he's weak on the glass. Andre certainly can't be worse than TJ on defense, and he's clearly the best rebounder on the whole team. I vote for Andre Patterson to become UCLA's first post player off the bench. Let's see him get 20 mpg on a regular basis and I'll bet UCLA's rebounding and interior offense will take a big step up. Andre's blocks usually come on his own man, who gets fooled into thinking Andre is too short to stop him, not suspecting Andre's long arms and quick hops. If Andre can improve his defensive rotation and start changing shots with his help defense, UCLA would be a much better team. Andre at least has the potential to do that; TJ doesn't. I hope I'm not slamming TJ too much; he's a terrific shooter and he's had some great scoring games for UCLA. But he really needs to improve in every other area of his game to deserve to be ahead of Andre in the lineup.

Dan Gadzuric had his second straight 20-point game, finishing with 20 points exactly (18 in the second half!) to go with 6 rebounds (these are my stats, not the official ones). Billy Knight got 16 points (8-10 from the FT line, one air ball), 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Matt Barnes got 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a bloody nose and twisted his ankle again. He shrugged it off and played well down the stretch, and his defense was a big help for the Bruins. Jason finished with 14 points (12 in the second half), 8 rebounds and 5 assists. TJ got 4 points and 1 rebound. Dijon Thompson hit a 3, but is still hesitating too much: Shoot that ball, young man. He also added a rebound and an assist. Ryan Walcott had 2 points and 2 steals, playing some great d, but he played out of control on offense. If he can calm down, he can help this team. Rico Hines had a rebound and an assist. He took 2 charging fouls that the officials called, several the officials didn't call, and caused a couple more WSU turnovers. However, both he and Billy got toasted by Marcus Moore when the defense got extended. Until Marcus got cold…

Marcus got 17 points and 8 assists for WSU. Jerry McNair bombed in 16 points on too many open looks. Mike Bush had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals, but seemed to tire in the second half, when he only scored 2 points. He's still playing for the football team, which might explain why he got worn out, but I'll bet the Bruin press didn't help him in that department. He made some crucial turnovers and took some really bad shots down the stretch against the press. Jay Locklier was solid with 8 points and 7 rebounds, but he got into too much foul trouble trying to guard Gadzilla. Milton Riley got 2 points, 6 rebounds and a botched dunk. Justin Lyman came off the bench to hit 2 3s in the second half. Cedric Hughey got 4 points, all in the second half, and Tom Kelati, a nice-looking 6-5 FR from Walla Walla (cool) got 3 points and 2 assists in a pretty solid performance. WSU's foul problems forced Graham to go deeper into his bench than usual and Pawel Stasiak, a 6-11 JR JC transfer originally came from Poland came in and banged on Gadzuric en route to 2 points and 4 rebounds. Shaminder Gill added 2 points and 2 rebounds.

There's not really any kind of grand statement I can think of to sum up this game, or this week. UDub and WSU will finish near the bottom of the Pac-10. Dan had a great week. After watching OSU and ASU and their bulky, but midget-like Cs and all those bricks from 3, UCLA will probably beat those teams on the road if Dan can keep this up. But where has he been all season? The Bruins continue to play very poorly in the first half and then really smash people in the second half when their offense clicks. I believe they've outscored each of their last 5 opponents by at least 12 points in the second halves of each game. When the Bruins get going and cut down their turnovers, they can get a huge number of high percentage shots against just about anyone. Their defense continues to need a lot of work. The press worked reasonably well, I think, and helped really wear down Marcus Moore and Mike Bush both, so that was a good game call by Lavin, but I'm not sure why the halfcourt defense was so extended that Marcus and Mike were able to penetrate so easily and so often. Why not pack it in and glue Rico to Jerry McNair and see if Marcus and Mike could beat you from 3?

Next week, UCLA gets Columbia and nationally-ranked Georgetown. I'll look past a solid Columbia squad for a moment and say that beating Georgetown is essential for the Bruins' momentum and RPI. The Hoyas play great fullcourt pressure man defense and have one of the top 5 inside duos in all of college bb in Mike Sweetney and Vallejo High's own Wesley Wilson. But they can't make their 3s consistently, and they make a lot of mistakes, too, and they're short on the wings. If UCLA can play a tight zone and get half the offensive rebounds, they ought to be able to beat Georgetown. Not if they play like they did this week, but if they play like they did against Alabama.

A win is a win, but UCLA has only really played like a ranked team in one game this year, the Alabama game. Ced Bozeman might get cleared to join the team for non-contact practice as soon as Monday. Hopefully, Matt didn't re-injure is ankle too badly. Hopefully, Dan is coming out of his shell. Hopefully, Andre will get to play more, and Dijon and Ryan will get more confident and poised. I'm a hopeful sort of guy, so I'm staying optimistic at this point.


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