The Defense Rests, 90-69

When UCLA overwhelmed USC Thursday night it was a great piece of evidence to support the fact that defense wins ball games. UCLA played defense, while USC's defense rested...

It is getting old to keep repeating that it's all about defense.

But it is.

Another bit of evidence in the case was on display at Pauley Pavilion Thursday night when UCLA overwhelmed USC, 90-69.

The primary reason for such a lopsided score and game was that UCLA played defense and USC didn't.

Sure, there were other contributing factors. But there's no question that UCLA put up 90 points on USC because the Trojans consider defense a disease. They stayed away from it Thursday night like it was the plague.

UCLA shot 60% from the field, and it wasn't because they were uncannily hitting all of their outside shots. It was because a vast majority of the shots they took were dunks and lay-ins.

As Head Coach Ben Howland has said, it's all about field goal percentage defense. When a team allows you to shoot 60% from the field, they ain't playing much defense.

There had to easily be a record-number of dunks for Bruins on the year Thursday night. Michael Fey was the recipient of some nice passes that he finished with a number of dunks. UCLA's perimeter players were going right past their lethargic defender because of one screen, then USC would fail to rotate down on Fey, and the UCLA perimeter player would make a nice, but fairly easy, assist. It felt like you were rewinding a tape and playing it over and over again it happened so often. UCLA had a season-high 22 assists on the night.

In our preview, we thought that USC might be loose and come out with nothing to lose and play hard, and it was the exact opposite case. USC was asleep most of the night. Interim Head Coach Jim Saia tried to wake them up by alternating between a zone and man-to-man defense. USC's zone had been very effective against UCLA in the teams' first meeting, but it seemed like it just further put USC to sleep this time.

On the other hand, UCLA played solid defense. USC's inside player, Jeff McMillan, is a load, and very difficult to stop in the block. UCLA, though, was smart in only occasionally doubling him – the line of thinking being that McMillan, while effective, isn't going to win the game for you. USC would need the outside shooting of Gabriel Pruitt and Lodrick Stewart. So, UCLA didn't double the post much, giving them a better chance of staying with USC's outside shooters, and it definitely worked. USC shot 41% on the night, and it wouldn't have been that high if not for some gimme baskets at the end of the game. With Pruitt being well defended by his best friend, Arron Afflalo, he was held to 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Lodrick Stewart had just six points and one three-pointer. 6-11 post Rory O'Neil was the guy who hurt UCLA from the outside, hitting three of three three-pointers. But if UCLA were going to allow someone to get hot from the outside, it was preferable that it was O'Neil and not Pruitt or Stewart. UCLA allowed O'Neil to shoot, with Dijon Thompson allowing him room on the outside to be able to stay low and potentially double McMillan. It was playing percentages intelligently on UCLA's part and it obviously worked.

UCLA also did a great job in not allowing USC to get points in transition. It wasn't really that difficult, though, since USC looked entirely deflated just about 15 minutes into the game and didn't seem to have enough energy to run. If they only had the energy that Saia had on the sidelines jumping around they would have been much better off.

Offensively, it was Afflalo's night. He was UCLA's leading scorer with 22 points and leading rebounder with 9, both career highs for him. It was a very welcome development – with Thompson struggling offensively early a bit and Farmar not getting many looks, Afflalo stepping up was much needed.

While Farmar didn't have a great night in terms of scoring, he did play well offensively. He really took control of UCLA's offense in this game, which was crucial for UCLA to hang on to the 20-point lead it had built by the second-half. Recently, in games that UCLA had built a lead in particularly, they've had a tendency to get wound up, get out of control and make bad decisions and turnovers. In this game, when it looked at times that that could happen, Farmar set the appropriate tempo. Toward the end of the first half, he slowed down the pace and it was instrumental in UCLA keeping a 16-point advantage at halftime. In the second half, with UCLA up by 26 or so, Farmar slowed them down, made their offense use the shot clock and wait for a good shot, which made it nearly impossible for USC to get back in the game. You might not think it's such a big deal, but in a high-pressure, intense situation, when you're a point guard and getting an outlet pass, it takes quite a bit of restraint to merely to slow down and hold up your hand to indicate to your team you're slowing it down. It's particularly mature for a freshman point guard.

UCLA, also, to its biggest credit, continued to play defense, even when it was up by 26. they gave USC absolutely no chance, no crack in the door, to be able get back in the game.

Perhaps the most crucial stretch of the game came at the beginning of the second half. Pruitt immediately hit a three to start the half, drawing them within 13, but UCLA responded, with Afflalo and Farmar making back-to-back buckets. Then over the course of the next 13 minutes or so UCLA essentially asserted its desire to win the game by playing very good defense, limiting USC to just 10 points by the 6:45 mark. In that time, UCLA stretched its lead to 78-46, its biggest margin.

While many might remember this game as the one that Brian Morrison made an incredible block on a Pruitt dunk, it really should be remembered as another bit of evidence in support of the defense-wins-ball-games theory.


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