Cal was red hot from 3 against USC on Thursday night, making 15-28 shots from behind the arc. Apparently, the Bears became convinced that they were a good shooting team, despite the fact that the 16 games prior to the Trojan bout told them the contrary.
UCLA came out in its standard 1-2-2 matchup zone, with one wrinkle: Matt Barnes moved up high, sometimes playing the "1" spot, mostly playing in the first line of the "2" defenders. The goal was to harass Cal's 6-10 Amit Tamir, who is a good outside shooter, give the guards more help in fighting through picks up top, and to block passing lanes into the post from the Cal point guards, who rarely move to the wings. Matt did a splendid job in all 3 respects, and Cal's halfcourt offense for most of the game consisted of jacking up long jumpers.
Unfortunately, UCLA was turning the ball over like crazy in the first half, and Cal was able to convert almost all of those turnovers into baskets. Ced Bozeman made 4 turnovers in the first half, although 3 of them were actually the fault of his teammates, who should have been credited with the turnovers. Dijon Thompson made 3 turnovers in the first half, and they were definitely all his fault. All in all, the Bruins made 10 turnovers in the first half, and that's what enabled Cal to briefly take a lead and keep up with the Bruins.
With the score tied at 15-15, a flurry of UCLA turnovers became a flurry of Cal baskets. Dennis Gates, a defensive specialist, bombed in 2 NBA-range 3s as Cal went on an 8-2 run to take a 23-17 lead. Matt came into the game for TJ Cummings, and the Bruins responded with a 12-0 run of their own. Matt fed Jason inside and Jason drew the foul and made both shots. Then Matt grabbed a defensive rebound, took the ball all the way into the lane and dished the rock to Jason, who calmly bombed in a NBA-range 3 of his own. With Cal bricking its Js, Jason then made a nice penetration move and kicked it back out to Ced , who put down his own 3. Dan dunked an offensive rebound after Matt missed a short shot inside. Finally, Matt capped the run by getting another defensive rebound, driving the length of the court once more and this time just went straight to the rack and made the lay-up. So much for Cal's vaunted defense.
Indeed, Ben Braun had seen enough at this point and moved Cal into a 1-2-2 matchup zone of its own. I thought this was an odd move. The Bruins always play better against a zone than a man, and Cal has the best FG% defense in the conference (they also lead in 3-point FG% defense, steals and turnover margin). In any event, with UCLA up 29-23 at the 4:57 mark (both teams just had trouble putting the ball in the basket), the game continued to be a grinding affair. When TJ Cummings was in the game, a missed J by Cal was the Bears' best play, as both Jamal Sampson and Solomon Hughes abused TJ underneath as the scored offensive rebound baskets on successive plays. Cal came back to tie the game at 30-30, but Billy Knight made a mid-range J off a nice dribble move to shake his man, giving UCLA a 32-30 halftime lead.
In the second half, Cal applied fullcourt pressure d before settling back into their matchup zone. All the Bruins had to do was get the ball to Matt and that negated the press. In the halfcourt, although UCLA was cold from 3, they know how to play against a matchup zone. Billy, Jason, Matt and Ced would space themselves out, Dan presented a huge target inside, and the Bruins would just go one-on-one off the dribble and either get the short shot or dish it to someone else for the wide-open shot if the defense collapsed. Although the pace of the game was very slow, UCLA was deliberate and poised, executing their zone offense with a high degree of precision. The only things that stopped UCLA from scoring in the second half were turnovers and missed free throws.
Turnovers were not much of a problem in the second half, even with the Cal press, as UCLA made only 5 giveaways in the final 20 minutes. FTs were a problem, however, as Dan missed 3 1 and 1s and Ced missed a 1 and 1 as well. UCLA might have actually pulled away from the Bears and beaten them by 15 if they had made their FTs in the middle portion of the second half. Instead, with all of their bricks, they allowed Cal to hang around. At the defensive end of the floor for the Bruins, it was all good, except that Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers were able to hit some Js and take the Bruins along the baseline ala Stanford. Jamal Sampson also got some offensive rebound points, as Dan finally began committing fouls. Dan had no fouls in the first half, and Lavin just didn't bother taking him out in the second half. Why would he? Dan was doing a great job of fronting the Cal post players, made some nice switches on defense to help his teammates and was a beast on the defensive glass.
With Dan presenting such a huge obstacle inside, and Matt and Ced blinding the short Cal PGs (both are listed at 5-10 and might really be closer to 5-8), Cal was reduced even more to jacking up 3s. The Bears were missing pretty much everything they threw up, and Joe and Brian's one-on-one play was the only thing keeping them in the game. The Bruin zone became tighter and tighter, but the Bears were so cold from the outside I could see icicles hanging off ShanTay Legans' and Amit Tamir's hands. Cal was 1-11 from 3 in the second half.
The Bruins went on a 6-0 run between the 16-minute and 13-minute mark to take a 42-36 lead and they never gave up the lead again. The game continued to be a real grinder. Both teams usually went 30 seconds into the shot clock, and Cal even committed a shot clock violation, firing up two air balls and having another shot swatted out of bounds by Dijon Thompson on the possession. As an example of how much clock these teams were using up, Cal had 36 points at the 16:24 mark. They scored point number 50 at the 3:18 mark. That's 14 points in 13 minutes. Obviously, the Bruin zone had a lot to do with that, but again Cal was cold.
Nonetheless, Cal clawed to within 50-47 at the 7:41 mark. UCLA missed a number of FTs, Cal missed all of their shots, and the score stayed that way until the 4:15 mark, when Ced hit Billy with a gorgeous pass off a penetration move and Billy laid it in after Ced drew 3 defenders to him. Now, it was crunch time, and unlike the Stanford and Arizona games, UCLA's big guns took care of business. First, Billy got by his defender with a nice head fake, dribbled around him, found himself wide open (as usually happens when someone gets inside the perimeter of a matchup zone) and hit the smooth mid-range J. On UCLA's next possession, Jason posted his man up, got the feed from Matt and hit the 15-foot turnaround J. After Jamal Sampson hit 2 FTs, Matt Barnes then dribbled past his own defender and hit one of those soft little jump hooks in the lane.
UCLA was now up 58-52 with a minute left, and Cal was forced to foul. Unfortunately for Cal, they had to foul Billy Knight and Jason Kapono this time. 5-6 from the FT line for those 2 in the last minute. With UCLA up 63-54 and only 9 seconds to go, Dan made a bizarre foul on a Ryan Forehan-Kelly attempt from 3 about 23 feet from the basket. Ryan, an excellent FT shooter, made all 3 shots, saving Cal from a double-digit loss. Dan added a FT at the end of the game to make the final score 64-57.
The Bruins played a good game. Although they were only 14-23 from the FT line, Dan was 3-8, so the rest of the team shot 73.3%. With only 5 turnovers in the second half, UCLA's overall total of 15 turnovers was respectable against a team that many people regard as the best defensive team in the Pac-10 (Cal made 13 turnovers). Most impressively, UCLA shot 51.1% from the field, making the Bruins the only team this season to shoot over 50% against the Bears (Cal's FG% defense is 39%). The Bruins hit 12-22 shots in the second half, a 54.5% mark, despite being cold from 3 (the Bruins missed at least 8 wide-open 3s in this game). I think Cal made a huge mistake going with a zone in the second half. The Bruins always shred zones. If Billy wasn't in a slump, UCLA would have won this game by 15 or more. UCLA outrebounded Cal 33-29, though Cal's 10 offensive rebounds produced 14 points.
Lavin decided to stick with his starters for almost the entire game, and I have no quarrel with that. His starters were playing well, it was a tight game throughout, and his bench was, quite frankly, terrible. Big Dan played 34 minutes, which might be a career high, and he got 13 points and 11 rebounds while committing only 1 turnover. He blocked one shot rotating over on d and altered about 5 shots as well. His points came on a variety of offensive moves, turnaround Js, a jump hook, and slams off offensive rebounds. Tonight, Dan looked like a real C.
Matt Barnes forced a couple of bad shots, but otherwise played on outstanding all around game. He had 11 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and only 1 turnover in 38 minutes. His defense in the Bruin zone was a big key in forcing Cal to shoot so many Js. I think Matt is now the best player on the team and the Bruins' go-to guy in the clutch.
Jason Kapono led UCLA with 17 points, including 11 in the first half, so he is definitely out of his slump. He hit 2-3 from 3, made all 5 of his FTs and added 4 rebounds in 34 minutes. Billy is in a slump, as he only hit 1-5 from 3, and all of his 3s were wide-open shots. However, Billy hit a number of clutch midrange Js, abusing the Cal perimeter players in the matchup zone, and he finished with 16 points and only 1 turnover in 35 minutes.
Ced Bozeman didn't make a turnover in the second half, and he also showed a little more aggressiveness in looking to score. The Bruins need for Ced to become much more of a factor offensively, and that will only happen when he starts taking the ball to the rack more frequently. I know the coaches have talked to him about this, and I believe he will become stronger and stronger with each passing week. He finished this game with 5 points and 5 assists in 35 minutes. Some of his passes are so pretty they belong on a highlight show. He has definitely added more quickness to the matchup zone on top.
The bench: TJ, Dijon, Rico and Ryan played a combined 27 minutes. They managed to hit a combined 1-4 shots for 2 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, committed 5 fouls and turned the ball over 6 times. Eeek. Of course, Rico didn't turn the ball over and it was good to see him back on the floor, even if it was for only 5 minutes. Dijon looks like he's hit a wall. I think Rico should hit TJ with a stool. It seemed to work for Matt. It will be interesting to see if Andre Patterson, who registered a DNP, takes TJ's spot next week against the Oregon schools. I expect the coaches to make a move regarding TJ soon, although he got some decent numbers against Stanford and might have bought himself some time. But maybe not.
Joe Shipp led Cal with 15 points (5-13 from the field). Dennis Gates added 11 points. Jamal Sampson got 9 points and 7 rebounds in a very solid performance. Amit Tamir, Cal's 2nd leading scorer, failed to score, as he went 0-5 from the field, 0-4 from 3. Matt totally silenced him. Ryan Forehan-Kelly had 8 points and played very well. Brian Wethers finished with 7 points and 3-9 shooting. The other Bears were quiet. Cal wound up hitting only 37% from the field, 20% from 3 (5-25 3s). That's exactly what you hope to get from a matchup zone: A lot of missed long Js. Braun better figure out a way to get the ball inside against UCLA. Cal might face a lot of zones from here on out.
UCLA's loss to Stanford sets them back a game in the race for the Pac-10 title. They must now not only win every remaining game at home, but also they must sweep a road trip. Their road trips are at the Oregon schools and the No Cal schools. I don't think UCLA can sweep Cal and Stanford on the road. UCLA will probably lose both games, though I wouldn't be surprised at all if UCLA pulls out a win against one of the No Cal teams either. Oregon has already slaughtered Arizona and beat Stanford soundly in Eugene. Both teams tried to run with Oregon and that's a mistake. The Bruins won't run with Oregon. The Ducks can't place great man d pressure on the ball like USC, Arizona and Stanford can. So the next two games, Oregon and Oregon State, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, should be very interesting…