It's a case study in what happens when you don't rebound or take care of the ball.
The Bruins struggled, against a team that clearly was the worst team UCLA has faced in its first four games.
And really simply – it was one of those games that you just wouldn't want to watch. It was ugly. Even repulsive.
When you have a flow of a game consisting of each team exchanging runs like Tuesday night, it's only good when the two teams are good, evenly-matched teams. It's not good when one team is clearly superior.
The game went like this, essentially: UCLA starts out on a 12-2 run. Long Beach State counters with a 17-4 run to go up 19-16. UCLA comes back with a 21-7 run to end the half ahead 38-23. Long Beach State then starts the second half with a 28-10 run to go up 51-48 by the middle of the second half. UCLA then counters with a 20-10 run and rides out the rest of the game for the ugly win.
UCLA made its runs by playing up to its potential. Long Beach State made its run by UCLA playing below its potential.
The LBSU run in the first half that took up about nine minutes was particularly painful. The 49ers got the run going by a series of UCLA turnovers, not by anything they were doing themselves particularly well.
The long dry spell for UCLA in the second half was similar. UCLA had 19 turnovers for the game and gave up 17 offensive boards.
If it weren't for Arron Afflalo, the freshman shooting guard, UCLA would have easily lost this game. He committed one clear turnover in the second half, but other than that, played flawlessly. He finished with 21 points, shot 7 for 7 from the field, 3 from 3 from the three-point line, four of five from the free-throw line, had six assists and five rebounds, which was more rebounds that Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey combined.
Dijon Thompson also had a good game, playing with good effort and energy. Shooting 11 for 12 from the free-thow line, getting a total of 25 points, even though he turned the ball over five times.
Freshman wing Josh Shipp continued to provide a big spark off the bench, particularly in his effort to rebound the ball in traffic and play solid defense.
There are some very obvious conclusions to take away from this game against Long Beach State, a team that UCLA should have easily blown out.
If anyone says that UCLA is athletic, just immediately recognize that the person saying that knows nothing about basketball. They're just basing it on some old assumption about anyone wearing UCLA on his chest. UCLA, conservatively isn't among the top 6 teams in the Pac-10 in terms of athleticism. They are neither quick laterally nor have good hops. And, basically, there isn't much else that constitutes athleticism. While Jordan Farmar, Afflalo, and Shipp are good freshmen, as we told you when they were seniors, they're not particulary quick. As a result of all of this, it's mind-blowing how many lay-ups, dunks and rebounds this team hasn't been able to execute merely because of its lack of athleticism.
This team, collectively, has a very poor basketball I.Q. Yes, you have Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, and even Josh Shipp, with high hoops I.Q.s, but they're young and will make mistakes. Then you have the veterans on the team that really don't have a natural feel for playing the game, and haven't developed it. That doesn't make for a pretty picture; it makes for an average of 17 turnovers a game.
UCLA started out in its first two games blocking out and dedicating itself to rebounding, but it has gotten away from it in its last two games. Thus the many second-chance points by their opponents in the last two games. There is no way this team will be able to post a winning record if Mike Fey and Ryan Hollins, two seven-footers, get only two rebounds each in a game (Heck, Shipp, a 6-4 freshman shooting guard played 12 minutes and got the same amount of rebounds as the two of them combined). The rest of the team is doing what it can to rebound, and doing a decent job. But Fey and Hollins have to re-dedicate themselves to blocking out and owning the paint, especially on the defensive end.
Lorenzo Mata, the freshman post, has a better feel for the game, and is naturally a quicker athlete than Hollins or Fey, but he's a liability right now as a post defender. It looks as if he's trying so hard to remember what to do on defense he's rendering himself useless. If Mata can't play post defense, you can't really use him to sub for Fey and Hollins when they have sub-par performances on the boards.
UCLA, simply, has personnel problems. Ryan Hollins is not a four man. As we said last week, even though he doesn't have developed post moves, he plays better closer to the basket and with his back to the basket. The four needs to be able to put the ball on the floor and pass, which Hollins doesn't do naturally well. Hopefully, as UCLA possibly sees teams go with smaller lineups, as Long Beach State did, UCLA will be able to run Dijon Thompson at the four, while also possibly allowing Arron Afflalo to defend the opposing team's four.
The team still refused to feed Mike Fey in the post against Long Beach State. He might have gotten three touches inside all night. This was a game that his advantage offensively could have really been exploited, with no one on Long Beach State over 6-9 weighing more than 215 pounds. But, for whatever reason, whether it's a lack of confidence in Fey or what, the team won't feed him the ball in the post.
So, where to go from here?
It's obvious that the Bruins are going to have to improve on some basics if they're going to have a winning season this year. First and foremost, they have to get better rebounding from Fey and Hollins. They have to be constantly dedicated to blocking out on the defensive boards and not allowing opposing teams second-chance points. That's probably the biggest key to the season. Because the second biggest key, limiting turnovers, is far more difficult to pull off, especially if you have a young team feeling its way. So, expecting so many turnovers, which takes away so many offensive possessions, you have to be able to limit your opponents to one shot and out, or else. If UCLA combines the kind of defensive rebounding and penchant for turnovers it did against Long Beach State, it won't finish in the top 7 in the Pac-10.
It could be quite a bit uglier at this point. The team is 4-0. For how mediocre it's performed it very well could have dropped at least one of the first four games. So, no real damage has been done – yet. The exhibition season is now over and the real season begins against a real opponent on Saturday when UCLA takes on Boston College in the John Wooden Classic at the Anaheim Pond, followed by Pepperdine, Michigan and then Michigan State on the road before it starts Pac-10 play. UCLA needs to win two of these upcoming four non-conference games if it hopes to stay on the minimum track for a winning season. And to do so, it's going to have to show improvement on the issues we saw on display against Long Beach State.