15th ranked UCLA (9-2) got a taste of Big East basketball and Big East officiating as they took the early big lead and then hung on for a 98-91 victory in a rambunctious, physical game against the 20th ranked Georgetown Hoyas (9-3) at Pauley Pavilion this afternoon.
Georgetown is big inside, they crash the offensive glass and they play fullcourt man pressure d and employ a lot of halfcourt traps. In the first half, the Bruins did a great job of turning the Hoyas' strengths against them. Dan Gadzuric and TJ Cummings both got out in front of the Hoyas' defense in transition a lot for some easy buckets at the other end. The Bruins mostly played a collapsing matchup zone in the first half, conceding the open look from 3 to double and sometimes triple team the ball in the post, whenever Mike Sweetney or Wesley Wilson touched the ball. The Bruins got numerous turnovers inside by stripping the ball from the Georgetown big men or cutting off drives from the Hoyas' star guard, Kevin Braswell. The Bruins also selectively pressed the Hoyas, and this, together with all of the double-teaming inside, helped the Bruins to cause 16 first half Hoya turnovers.
The Bruins also shot the ball very well from 3, especially Matt Barnes, and although Georgetown's pressure d caused 9 Bruin turnovers, the Hoyas were only able to convert two baskets off of giveaways. The Bruins were playing with great energy and discipline at both ends, and probably played their best basketball of the season in the first half as they left the court with a 55-35 lead after the first 20 minutes.
The second half started out as a series of punches and counterpunches. Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick benched Wilson, his 6-11 big man, in favor of a smaller and quicker lineup, and extended his traps to cover the entire court. As a result, Georgetown's ability to get easy baskets off of turnovers increased sharply in the final 20 minutes. Tough Michael Sweetney also got the ball in better position, both setting up in the post and by pounding the offensive glass (and by taking Dan Gadzuric out of the game for about 8 minutes by pounding Dan in the face), and he scored a lot of points inside.
UCLA seemed to noticeably tire in the second half. The two freshmen, Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson, looked a little over their head in such a high-powered, physical game, and UCLA was basically reduced to six effective players. Jason Kapono, in particular, made a slew of turnovers in the second half and shot a very uncharacteristic 5-10 from the FT line. The Bruins' defensive intensity slacked noticeably as well, but Jason, Billy and Matt were still stroking 3s, TJ was gunning in the 17-footers, and when Dan returned to the game, he started getting the ball inside again. So, even as the Hoyas made a series of mini-runs at the Bruins, UCLA actually got the lead up to 22 points at one point and was still up by 20 at the 11:30 mark, and by 16 at the 7:30 mark.
At that point, Kevin Braswell began driving and dishing, scoring easily as the Bruin zone backed down, trying to contain Sweetney and the glass. The Hoyas were able to hit some outside shots, and continued to get putbacks. The Bruins really seemed ready to fade out, but Billy, Matt, TJ and Dan were able to hit some key buckets and FTs (yes, Dan was 4-5 from the FT line). Indeed, as the game clock wound down, Dan got sweet revenge for getting his face crushed by Sweetney's elbow by fouling Sweetney out of the game on a 3-point play and then hitting 2 FTs as he fouled out Courtland Freeman two plays later.
The game seemed to be over with the Bruins up by 11 at the 1:55 mark, 3 Hoyas on the bench with 5 fouls each and Jason and Billy heading toward the line. Unfortunately, Jason and Billy missed some FTs and Kevin Braswell and Tony Bethel proceeded to can 5 straight 3s between them. The Bruins were back on their heels and didn't challenge any of those shots, although Braswell had been 1-11 from 3 up to that point, so perhaps they couldn't be blamed for playing "prevent" defense at that point. The Hoyas sliced the lead down to 4 with their 3-point exhibition before Billy took over at the FT line and buried the rest of his free shots as the Hoyas finally ran out of time.
This was probably the first time since Ced Bozeman went out of the lineup that the Bruins really looked like they missed having a good point guard. Braswell, Bethel and Drew Hall are all 6-2 and quick, Harvey Thomas, Victor Samnick and Courtland Freeman are all 6-8 and quick and Gerald Riley is 6-6 and quick. The Hoyas were able to place intense pressure on Jason, Billy and Dijon, and they had the quickness to convert turnovers for easy scores, something that many UCLA opponents in December just lacked. Both Arizona and USC have a lot of quick players and they can place great defensive pressure on the ball, as can Oregon, Cal and ASU at times, and the Bruins got a good taste of what playing those teams will be like. Ced is going to play next Friday against Washington, and I have feeling he'll be playing at least 15 mpg by the time UCLA plays USC at the Forum the following week.
Matt Barnes played a terrific all-around game for UCLA at both ends. He hit 3-5 from 3 and got 19 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block. He did make 4 turnovers in 38 minutes, but most of Matt's turnovers are errors of commission, trying to make a play to set up a teammate, rather than omission. Matt gave the Bruins a good release from the Hoyas' fullcourt pressure, and basically forced the Hoyas to play small for the entire second half. When you get a team to give up on one of their biggest strengths, that is a good way to get a "W."
Big Dan got 18 points, 7 rebounds and a steal in 28 minutes and drew numerous fouls from the Hoya big men. Dan also did a better job of moving his feet and rotating on defense and contributed to a number of Hoya turnovers in the first half. Billy led the Bruins with 20 points, as he hit 4-5 from 3 and 8-11 from the FT line. Billy also added 3 assists. TJ was 6-8 from the field and the FT line and played his most physical and effective game of the season as he also got a block and a steal en route to 18 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist. TJ still needs to get his hands on the boards, especially at the offensive end, but he kept the ball alive a few times where the Bruins wound up with possession.
Jason's line is a mixed bag, but the truth is that Jason has been carrying this team on his back for the past 7 games, all of which have been Bruin victories. He finally had a mediocre game as a ballhandler and FT shooter, but that was bound to happen, especially against what is simply a very tough fullcourt pressure defense that is probably better than any UCLA will face for the rest of the year, except for maybe USC. Jason did make 7 turnovers, but his 16 points (3-6 from 3), 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal obviously played a big part in the Bruin win.
Rico Hines scored on a driving layup, pulled down 6 rebounds, got 2 steals and made 0 turnovers in 23 minutes. Rico did a great job of collapsing on the Hoya post players, and he brought a lot of intensity to the game. Maybe too much, as Coach Lavin pulled him out of the game for a breather early in the second half after Rico wanted some payback for the Sweetney elbow to Dan's face. The Bruins got 9 deadball rebounds to Georgetown's 1, and it seemed like half those deadball rebounds came back to UCLA because Rico was boxing someone out or just shoving them out of bounds. It was a physical game, and I don't think UCLA would have been ready, willing and able to tear the victory away without Rico's hustle and rugged play today. Harrick recruited Rico because he thought he "could make an impact on a team full of west coast players," and that impact was pretty obvious against the Hoyas.
Georgetown was led by Braswell's 22 points and 4 assists, though this future NBA player was 9-23 from the field and 4-14 from 3, so I guess he should've scored 22 points with all of those shots. If he hadn't hit those 3 3s in the last minute and a half, he would've had a pretty quiet day. Sweetney, who could be the country's best post player along with Reggie Evans of Iowa, got 19 points and 17 rebounds, including 7 offensive rebounds. Eeek! This guy is listed at 260, but looks bigger and stronger. Gerald Riley was excellent, especially on defense and some great baseline moves, and finished with 18 points. Tony Bethel was also very good, as he scored 17 points and made 3-5 from 3. Courtland Freeman, a one-time Bruin recruit, had 8 points and 3 rebounds, and Harvey Thomas, a very quick, promising 6-8 FR, got 5 points and 2 rebounds.
For the game, UCLA actually out-rebounded one of the best rebounding teams in the country, 37-36, and they shot 51.8% from the field against a team which came into the game holding opponents to 36.1% from the field. The Bruins did make 20 turnovers, by far their worst total since the Pepperdine loss, but even top 10 team Virginia made 25 turnovers against this team (Georgetown causes 21.6 turnovers per game). The Bruins also had 18 team assists compared to 8 for the Hoyas, who hit 46.8% from the field and 35.7% from 3. The Bruins were a bit of a disappointment at the line, making 29-42 for 69%. If they had hit some key FTs down the stretch, they would've won this game by 12 points or more. UCLA did make 11-18 (61.1%) of their 3s.
This was a good win for the Bruins. They were probably able to impose their style of play upon Georgetown for about 28 minutes out of 40. You'd like to see your team up around the 32-34 minute mark at this stage of the season, heading into conference and January, but the Bruins are playing without their PG, so I'll take it at this moment. The Bruins are fortunate to have the Washington schools coming into Los Angeles next week. I don't expect Ced Bozeman to be dazzling anybody until February 1, but if he and the other freshmen can contribute some solid play for the next month, Lavin can probably steal a good record out of the first half of the Pac-10. The Bruins also get ASU on the road in the first half of conference play, so they could have 5 wins in the first 9 conference games at the least, probably 7 if they hold serve at home against Stanford and Cal. So, UCLA could be 7-2 at worst in the Pac-10 by the time Ced Bozeman gets back up to speed. UCLA has slogged their way through December, defeating only one team decisively, but still notching a 7-0 mark with two wins over nationally-ranked teams. They might be rated as high as 12th going into next week's games and maybe 10th by the time they take on Kansas. A scary thought…
We'll do a new State of the Program address around the first of the year, as promised…