Yes, they'll probably still have a few lapses here and there, but most college players do.
UCLA didn't play a great game, and doesn't generally match up well against the Beavers (hopefully UCLA won't face them in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament). That combination created a bit of a grinder game Thursday night, with UCLA trying to make up for some disadvantages in the game with resolve, fearlessness and toughness.
UCLA, defensively, probably struggles more against Oregon State than any other team in the Pac-10. The Beavers have a very effective inside scoring threat in David Lucas, who probably did the best among the Pac-10 big men in scoring against UCLA's double team. Then the Beavers also have a bunch of whirling dervishes of guards on the perimeter that fly around, penetrating and kicking out. They have the best combination of an inside scoring presence and quickness on the perimeter than any team in the Pac-10.
And those dervishes can shoot.
It makes for a tough matchup for UCLA. They have had to double the post, which makes you a man down in defending the perimeter, and then it's difficult to keep track of all of those Beavers flying around. If they just could penetrate, or just could shoot, it'd be much easier. But they can do both. Oregon State got some of the best open looks against UCLA's defense in a long time, and it wasn't really that UCLA was playing poor defense; there's just so much you can defend.
Then, on the other side of the court, Oregon State had a good defensive game plan. First, the best aspect of the game plan was to actually play defense, which they haven't done much this season. They did in this game, however, and it really was the catalyst to the Beavers leading for much of the game. Besides playing hard, their strategy to pressure Jordan Farmar and try to wear him down proved fairly sound. It didn't necessarily limit Farmar offensively, but it did disrupt UCLA's defense enough to keep it out of a rhythm.
Here's a clue for UCLA's remaining opponents: Disrupt UCLA's defense early and it could take them the rest of the game to get on track, or they might never get on track. It's almost other-worldly how the offensive performance of UCLA's leading scorer, Dijon Thompson, is dictated so much by how he starts off a game. If he starts off cold, he's generally cold throughout the game. If he hits that first shot, most of the time he'll be on for most of the game. Oregon State did enough to disrupt UCLA's defense early to get the Bruins out of rhythm in their shooting, especially Thompson. UCLA started the game 4-for-16 shooting, and it set the tone for the game: Oregon State fought through some early sloppiness and lack of transition defense and took the lead, which they held up until just a few minutes left in the game. And it established UCLA's offensive struggles.
The cold shooting sweeps through the team like a, well, cold. Brian Morrison then comes out and misses every one of his jump shots for the entire game, making just one easy breakaway lay-up, shooting 1 for 7 from the field and 0 for 5 from three. After making 14 threes against Notre Dame they went 5 for 23 against Oregon State, and 1 for 11 in the first half, with probably better looks.
UCLA didn't just miss open jump shots early on, they missed a number of lay-ups. Josh Shipp isn't incredibly great finishing around the basket, lacking great athleticism to do it, and he's now especially hindered with the sprained ankle.
A couple of months ago, heck maybe even just a month ago, UCLA would have lost this game because of this. When Thompson and Morrison went cold against Cal at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA lost. When Thompson went cold against Stanford, Bruins lost.
But in those games, Farmar and Afflalo had just 34 points between the two of them. In this game against Oregon State, when Thompson and Morrison went cold early, the two cold-blooded freshmen didn't. Farmar led UCLA with 23 points and Afflalo had 12. Now, when the seniors go cold, Farmar and Afflalo have learned to step up and take over the scoring burden. It was the difference in this game, as it was in the Notre Dame and USC games.
Farmar had truly a phenomenal game: 23 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, two steals and just two turnovers in 36 minutes. He carried UCLA, realizing that he needed to continue to be aggressive against Oregon State's extended defense. Because of his aggressiveness UCLA got into the bonus with 12:30 left in the second half, which was crucial. OSU was playing tough D, and UCLA's offense, while executing well and being patient, was still struggling to get a good shot and then not making those open looks. The difference in the second half was UCLA's ability to get to the free-throw line, and Farmar led the way. He shot eight free throws in the second half and made all eight. Oregon State made a critical strategic error: Once it got a quick three or four fouls in over-pressuring Farmar and the ball in the second half, they needed to just settle into a tough half-court defense and make UCLA make its shots. Farmar really took advantage of that tactical error, and it gave UCLA an offense at the free throw line that they didn't have from the field. They went 19 of 22 as a team in the second half from the free throw line.
But, if you're talking about game difference-makers, you can't avoid mentioning Afflalo's big three-pointer. With the score tied at 61-all, with 1:41 left in the game, and UCLA struggling to find an open shot, Afflalo coolly nailed a three-point jumper with a defender in his face. While Farmar built a resume of winning the game for UCLA throughout the first 38 minutes, it was capped by Afflalo's single game-winner.
It truly is uncanny how far these two have come. Remember, they're still just freshmen, playing here in just their 25th college game. But it's not just that they have learned so much and come so far, it's also about what they're made of, the heart, guts and the most awe-inspiring, the fearlessness.
Some credit has to go out to Ryan Hollins, who stepped up in the post. With OSU playing strong D, every offensive possession was crucial for UCLA, and Hollins' three offensive rebounds were huge, resulting in seven big points at very critical junctures in the game.
The Bruins definitely struggled in this game, and were fortunate to win. But these are the games that successful teams win – the ones where they're not playing well and they find a way. And this team has definitely learned how to win them, by playing defense and playing intelligently and taking good shots on offense.
For two freshmen to be the force in this growth and maturation for this team is truly remarkable. Many players take their entire college career to get this, and some never do. And even some that eventually get it don't have the talent or fearlessness to go along with the experience.
Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo definitely aren't freshmen anymore, and they have the stuff that it takes to be Bruin greats.