UCLA beat USC at Pauley Pavilion last night. Hurrah! Or, as they used to shout up until the Civil War, Huzzah! I've never figured that one out. But keeping along the lines of history and literature, last night's game could be called "A Tale of Two Basketball Games." Actually, "A Tale of Four Basketball Games" would be even better, even if Charles Dickens has now made a second turn around in his grave (and we're not talking jumper). There was the first half, the first 14 minutes of the second half, the next 5:26 of the second half, and last :34 of the second half. All entirely different basketball matchups.
The first half went to the Trojans, 39-33. The first half looked a lot like its counterpart at the Forum (see, I snuck in another classical reference! Did you folks know that some Romans claimed their city was founded by a Trojan prince who fled his own city after the Greeks destroyed it? And then the Romans built the Forum. Do you see how this all ties together? I sure hope so, because I don't!).
In short, UCLA's tight-packed zone was forcing USC to shoot a lot of spot-up 3s. With the exception of secret weapon Gennaro Busterna, 6-3 205 SR SG, the Trojans had trouble putting any of those long shots down. However, they didn't have any trouble retrieving their misses and putting them in for easy baskets, as USC grabbed 7 offensive rebounds in the first half and ultimately converted a basket on each of those extra possessions (overall, USC outrebounded UCLA 19-12 in the half). Sam Clancy got 9 rebounds in the first half and David Bluthenthal grabbed 5.
The Trojans were also able to get the ball into Sam Clancy with frightening ease. Actually, there wasn't any mystery about it. USC had simply learned its lessons from the first game. When Dan Gadzuric fronted Clancy, USC set a series of back picks on the Bruin big man to shake Sam free. When Sam got free, no one on UCLA seemed excited enough about it to switch over and defend him, so USC just threw Sam a series of high passes and he leapt over the fray to snag them and then put it a lot of easy baskets in the key. Sam got 17 points in the first half.
At the other end of the floor, the Bruins took advantage of the Trojans' press early to steal some open shots early in the shot clock. Billy Knight and Jason Kapono both hit 3s off the break. When the Bruins weren't looking for a quick score, they pulled back into their 1-4 and tried to stretch the Trojan defense and the shot clock.
Unfortunately, the Trojans are probably the quickest team in the league, so stretching out a defense that's a whole magnitude quicker than your own doesn't help a whole lot. As the first half wore on, UCLA's players were often forced to go one on one off the dribble in order to score. Since only Matt Barnes and Billy Knight (and perhaps Ced Bozeman and Dijon Thompson) have that ability, the Bruins turned the ball over a lot (10 times in the first half) and that limited UCLA's ability to go on any runs.
Even worse, it set UCLA up for one of its inevitable dry runs on offense. This one didn't hit until there was 4:41 remaining in the first half and USC was clinging to a 31-30 lead. The Trojans then took advantage of a series of forced shots and miscues and outscored the Bruins 8-0 over the next 2:50. Both teams traded bad shots and even worse decisions before Matt Barnes hit a wild leaning 3 at the buzzer to send the teams into the locker room with USC up, 39-33.
In the locker room, UCLA assistant coach Jim Saia apparently had a few choice words for the team. Several players alluded to this in interviews after the game, so I went and asked Jim what he said. Jim was still in locker room mode, apparently, and so I cannot print a single word he said to the team or me. To put it in perspective, Jim is usually pretty happy after UCLA wins a game. Especially a game against USC. But Jim was not happy after the game last night. No, that is not the word I would use.
Whatever was said in the locker room, it worked. The Bruins came out in the second half and played the best defense they've played all year. At least, they did for 14 minutes. For any Bruin fans that missed the game, I wish I could describe the change to you, but I'm not sure I can.
Where the Bruins were standing around on defense, they now were moving. Where they weren't switching off picks before, they were switching so fast and furious the Trojans started to panic, and I've never seen that happen to USC this year. Where the Bruins were content to let Dan try to handle Sam one on one, they were double and triple teaming Sam whenever he got the ball in the post. Where they were conceding the open 3 every time down, they had a hand in the face of every shooter.
The Trojans managed to score a grand total of 9 points in the first 14 minutes of the second half. The Bruins scored 28 in the same period of time, and took a 59-48 lead. The Bruin points came from everywhere. Ced Bozeman fed Jason Kapono for a couple of 3s of some beautiful passes. Billy nailed a 3 and a short J. Dam again imitated a C and hit some short turnaround Js. Matt hit a 3 and scored inside as well.
You'd figure that with UCLA up by 11 on its home court and playing its best d of the year with 6 minutes to go that the Bruins would be ready to cruise to the end for an easy victory. Not with this team. The coaches always talk about their guys playing with heart, but what about the hearts of us fans? We're talking heart attacks and heart breaks. Now, as the game entered its third phase, the Bruins set us all up for both possible endings.
First, the Bruins seemed to relax on d. First, Errick Craven got into the lane, drew a foul and made both foul shots. Then Rory O'Neill got a wide open look from the FT line (of course, UCLA was fading this shot to double team Sam down low, so you pick your poison). Brandon Granville got into the lane for a short floater. 61-54.
Sam got loose on a low screen, nobody switched over and he hit a short baseline J. Now Henry Bibby told his players to foul Rico Hines and Ced whenever they touched the ball. Rico missed the front end of a one on one and Ced made one of two. In between, Sam got loose on loose on another baseline screen, took a great pass from Rory and laid it in. Billy Knight hit 2 FTs to make it 64-58 with 3:22 left.
Lavin now made a fateful decision (Tracy, please put some fateful sounding music into the background here to heighten the tension). He responded to Bibby's strategy by pulling Ced and Rico and inserting TJ and Matt. Bad move, Steve. First, Ced is still the team's only PG. Second, TJ still can't, or won't, play d.
The next 2:48 were fairly agonizing for UCLA fans. If it gives the fans any consolation, it was equally agonizing for the UCLA coaches, but then it was their fault. The Bruins went back to spreading the floor without being able to beat anyone one on one. They dribbled it around a lot, then either forced up a terrible shot as the clock expired or turned the ball over. At the other end, UCLA still played pretty solid d, expect TJ missed a switch out onto David Bluthenthal and David hit the 3 to make it 64-63 UCLA.
The Trojans were trying to get Brandon the ball and isolate him one on one. This strategy worked really well, and when it didn't, Brandon cheated. With 34 seconds to go, and the score still 64-63, as the Trojans were about to in-bounds the ball, Brandon grabbed Rico's arm, pulled it toward him, slid his arm through Rico's and then shouted at the ref, "He's holding me!" The ref agreed. Brandon calmly hit both FTs to give USC its first lead since the 16:20 mark.
Lavin now made a second fateful decision (cue music): He put Ced back into the game. The Bruins brought the ball up the floor. After the couple of exchanges with Matt and Jason, Ced drove to the hole with 10 seconds left. Unlike any of his teammates, Ced can actually drive to the hole with Brandon Granville guarding him. Ced missed the layup, but drew two post defenders to him. With no one boxing him out, Dan grabbed the offensive rebound… and missed.
In the ensuing scramble, Dan reached down, grabbed the ball away from Brandon, who was actually lying on the floor out of bounds, and then looked up to find Sam, David and Rory all surrounding him. So, Dan decided to look somewhere else.
He spotted Billy Knight standing alone behind the 3-point arc. Actually, Billy, Jason and Matt were all open behind the 3-point arc. In all the excitement, USC had completely forgotten the best trio of 3-point shooters in the conference. We all know what happens to Trojans who let their guard down (hence, the Trojan horse allusion at the start of this whole article). Dan fired the pass to Billy, who very calmly swished the shot at the buzzer.
The coaching staffs were less calm about it. Eric Brown of USC charged the scorer's table, claiming the shot came after the buzzer (oh, sit down, Eric!). Gerald Madkins charged Eric. Security intervened. Steve Lavin ran off the floor before he was crushed by the mob of students swarming the court. Henry Bibby did the same. Sure, the vets know to abandon their assistants when the going gets rough.
The Bruins were led by Jason Kapono, who hit 4-10 3s and 8-8 FTs en route to 26 points and 8 rebounds. Billy added 14 points. Dan got 11 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. Matt managed 10 points and 6 rebounds. Ced had 3 points, 4 assists and only 1 turnover. Jason, Billy and Matt combined for 13 turnovers. Rico had 2 points, 3 assists, took 2 charges and played great d during UCLA's 14 minutes of greatness. TJ added a point. Neither Dijon nor Ryan scored in very limited action.
The Trojans were led by Sam Clancy, with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Gennaro Busterna got 12 points. He hit his first 3 3s and then went 0-5 when Rico guarded him in the second half. Brandon Granville added 11 points and 6 assists. David Bluthenthal had 5 points and 9 rebounds. Errick Craven registered 6 points and 4 rebounds. Desmon Farmer had 3 points, while Rory O'Neill and Jerry Dupree each scored 2. Some factoids: USC was 6-26 from 3, for 23.1%. Brandon was 1-8, Errick and David 1-4, and Gennaro 3-8. This is the 4 time in the last 7 Pac-10 games a team has shot less than 25% from 3 against UCLA. Of course, the other 3 times were against Arizona, Stanford and Oregon. UCLA made 50% of its 3s.
USC shot 38.7% from the field. UCLA shot 44.9%. Neither team sparkled from the FT line: UCLA, 68.2%, USC 64.7%.
USC outrebounded UCLA 35-32 for the game. USC had 14 offensive rebounds, 7 in each half. All of the first half offensive rebounds eventually led to Trojan scores. Only 2 second half offensive boards had the same result. Huh.
In my view, USC's overall quickness and athleticism, along with its emphasis on pressure defense, makes the Trojans UCLA's toughest matchup in the Pac-10. Or, in other words, they are harder for UCLA to prepare a successful game plan for than any of the other Pac-10 teams. So, UCLA's victory might give one the impression that UCLA can win the remainder of their home games.
On the other hand, the Bruins only played well for 14:34 of this game. Prolonged dead spots on offense were again a problem, just as in the Stanford and Arizona losses. So, I don't think this win gives any basis for making predictions about what UCLA is going to do for the rest of the season.
It does seem clear that UCLA needs to keep Ced Bozeman on the floor for as many minutes as possible. He now has 34 assists against 16 turnovers in the 7 games he's started and as a starter in conference has the best A/TO ratio among all Pac-10 PGs. He's THE PG for the team, and Jason, Matt and Billy all score better and play better when they don't have to work so hard dribbling the ball. When Ced and Matt played together, they neutralized the Trojan press for most of the game.
It also appears as if Lavin is shortening his bench to 7 players. I expect him to pretty much go with the starters plus Rico and TJ for the rest of the way.