UCLA Dodges Long-Range Bullets

UCLA never puts away Washington and withstands a late-game Husky charge for a win in its first Pac-10 game of the season at Pauley Pavilion...

The 14th ranked UCLA Bruins withstood a 3-point barrage from the Washington Huskies and pulled away slightly at the very end of a close game to come up with a 74-62 victory. UCLA raises its overall record to 10-2, 3-0 in the Pac-10, while UDub falls to 6-7 overall, 0-3 in the Pac-10. The win was the 8th straight for the Bruins.

If you go back and read my preview, the first half went very much the way I expected, except that I didn't expect Jason Kapono and Billy Knight to shoot a combined 2-14 from the field, nor did I expect Dan Gadzuric to leave the game at the 18:31 mark with his second foul. On offense, UCLA shifted between its 1-4 and zone offense, depending on what the Huskies threw at them (mostly a man or tight matchup zone). However, the Bruins rushed a lot of their shots and hit only 40% from the field and 1-9 from 3. Ced Bozeman made his return for the Bruins and showed what happens when a 6-6 PG posts up a 6-0 PG, and also made some pretty moves around the basket.

On defense, UCLA tried to press UDub to cause turnovers and force quick shots, but the Huskies did a solid job of staying under control and getting the ball to their outside shooters. The Bruins also mixed and matched their zone with a man, but seemed content to concede the 3 in favor of preventing dribble penetration. Against the Pac-10's best 3-point shooting team, that was a dangerous strategy, but then again maybe UCLA is too slow to consistently close out on 3s anyway. With Washington big men Dave Dixon and Jeff Day again experiencing their own share of foul trouble, UCLA got a lot of offensive rebounds, but mostly dribbled or passed the ball back outside and scored few baskets off of those rebounds. The lead changed hands a number of times, with the Bruins crawling to a 34-31 halftime advantage. TJ Cummings played very well for UCLA off the bench and led the Bruins with 11 points, while Matt Barnes also played well and scored 9 points.

In the second half, the Bruins really seemed to settle down on offense as they started to make the extra pass and take the time to let the defense space out and break down before attempting to dump the ball inside. With Dan quickly hampered by a 3rd foul and also apparently by an injured hand (no word on his status right after the game, but it didn't sound too serious), TJ came back in and went to town, playing his best game of the season. It was an interesting chess match in the second half: With David Dixon quickly drawing his 3rd and 4th fouls, Bob Bender nevertheless decided to leave the mammoth Houstonian in the game to set picks for Josh Barnard, Curtis Allen and the other UDub J shooters. This he did, quite well. But at the other end, TJ repeatedly abused Dixon as the Bruins fed the ball inside to him again and again, and TJ scored on a variety of acrobatic moves on the impotent titan.

Throughout the second half, while the Bruin offense worked better and better, UCLA seemed on the verge of breaking away from UDub, but then UCLA's defense would prove incapable of either causing any UDub turnovers or stopping UDub from hitting a couple of 3s, allowing the Huskies to keep contact and even tie the game throughout most of the second half. The Bruins really didn't take charge until they came out of the 3:47 TV break with a 65-59 lead. Both teams tried to set a record for bricking clutch FTs down the stretch, but UCLA continued to get some easy scores and UDub finally started missing on those 3s, and UCLA finally stretched the lead out to 12 points in the last 2 minutes, with Rico Dunkin' Hines closing out the game with a breakaway jam.

There was nothing pretty about this gala, unless you count the overall play of TJ and Matt. TJ finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds (a career high), 1 assist and 1 block in 31 minutes. Perhaps most importantly, TJ scored on some jump hooks and baseline scoop shots and gave the Bruins a credible inside presence at both ends of the floor. I think this was TJ's best game as a Bruin to date. Matt Barnes had some trouble at the FT line, but he registered 12 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists (a career high), 1 steal and just 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. He took over a lot of the chore of bringing the ball up the floor when the Huskies tried to press the Bruins, and he got to play the "1" spot a lot in the offense since Dan wasn't on the floor and that's one reason why he got so many assists and UCLA shot 55.6% from the field in the second half.

The three freshmen all played solid games for the Bruins. Ced marked his second debut with 6 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 7 minutes, and gave people a little better idea of his quickness and athleticism. He actually had 2 assists, but the scorekeepers took one away from him. He also blew by quick 6-0 guard Curtis Allen with a behind-the-back dribble that led to him scoring off his own offensive rebound. Hopefully, Ced will have minimal swelling in his knee tonight and tomorrow and can go for maybe 10 minutes on Sunday. Andre Patterson got lost on defense a lot, but he was great on the offensive end of the floor with his sweeping hook, offensive rebound dunk and sharp interior passing. He finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 11 minutes. Dijon Thompson added 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in 15 minutes.

Jason Kapono and Billy Knight struggled most of the game to get into any kind of offensive flow and both looked tired. Both also frequently lost contact with their men when they were picked off at the other end, but again the UCLA defense is geared more towards stopping penetration than stopping the 3. Jason got 13 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist, making 4-12 from the field and 1-8 from 3. Billy was 3-10 from the field and 1-3 from 3 en route to 7 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Rico Hines, OTOH, played a pretty solid game, with 2 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and, yes, you guessed it, 0 turnovers in 22 minutes. Rico may be about to set a UCLA record for fewest points per minute, but he might also be about to set a UCLA record for most consecutive minutes without a turnover. He even played the "1" in the 1-4 for a few minutes during a key 6-0 streak by the Bruins, and took a key charge from Doug Wrenn down the stretch.

Dan finished with 2 points, 1 rebound, 2 turnovers and 1-5 shooting in 6 minutes. The less said, the better.

One of these days, I'd like to see UCLA paste one of their Pac-10 opponents, especially one that's going to finish near the bottom of the conference. Sigh. We're just not a team that converts much off turnovers or gets very many breaks, so we don't seem to have the capacity to really break open a game, or sustain a big lead, against even average competition. UDub only had 12 turnovers today (UCLA made 11). UCLA outrebounded the Huskies 46-29, with 18 offensive rebounds, but as I noted most of those offensive rebounds were converted into second misses, rather than baskets. UDub was limited to 38.2% from the field and 34.5% from 3 (10-29), which is far below their season average (43.2% from 3), but without productive extra possessions, if you let a team shoot over 33% from 3 and they shoot 30 3s, they're going to stay close, no matter what. The Bruins still haven't solved their defensive problem: Figuring out how to either prevent teams from getting good shots, or at least forcing more turnovers which lead directly to baskets at the other end. The Bruins must do one or the other to win the conference.

I think.

UDub was led by Josh Barnard, who hit 6-15 3s on his way to a team-high 22 points in 29 minutes. Curtis Allen added 15 points and 8 assists (5 turnovers). Grant Leep got 12 points and 6 rebounds. Doug Wrenn, perhaps hindered by his injured right eye, was quieted by Matt Barnes and finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds and 5 turnovers. I wanted to talk to Doug after the game, but all of the UDub players went directly from the locker room to their bus, so it was a no go.

UCLA takes on Washington State on Sunday at 1 PM.

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