UCLA Loses in Season-Defining Game

UCLA follows up a big win over Arizona with a horrendously disappointing loss against Arizona State, in what probably signals the end for UCLA's Pac-10 title hopes...

The UCLA Bruins followed up their exciting victory over the Arizona Wildcats with a lethargic, mistake-prone loss to the ASU Sun Devils, 69-68, in a game that probably signals the end of UCLA's Pac-10 title hopes and seems to define this Bruin squad.

UCLA came out in its new "motion offense," which is really just sticking Dan Gadzuric down low and spreading the other 4 players out so Ced Bozeman, Matt Barnes and Billy Knight have more freedom to go one on one with a single pick on each sequence. Arizona's relatively slower frontline had some trouble with the Bruins' new look, but the quicker ASU frontline had no such problems. After ASU bricked some shots and fell behind 7-0, the Sun Devils took advantage of a streak of UCLA turnovers and blown shots to go on a 13-2 run, taking a 13-9 lead.

The Bruins had been successful in getting the ball down low to Dan, but he missed most of his shots. Ced scored off some nice drives, but Billy and Jason couldn't hit anything. UCLA stuck to its motion and continued to brick open shots and commit unforced turnovers as ASU went on another big run, 13-0, to inflate a 15-14 lead to 28-14. The Pauley audience groaned and booed, appropriately so. It was unclear why Lavin stayed with the motion for so long when it was obviously not working.

UCLA's 1-2-2 matchup zone kept them in the game. ASU was 3-9 from 3 and top scorers like Curtis Millage and Tommie Smith couldn't find any gaps in the paint for open shots. After Ced hit a 3, UCLA went back to its 1-4 and outscored ASU 22-8 over the final 5:49 of the first half. Most of UCLA's scores came off of power moves in the lane by Dan, who displayed an accurate jump hook from both sides of the basket. He also made a spectacular slam off a dish from Ced on the fastbreak after beating ASU star Chad Prewitt down the floor in transition.

The Bruins came out of the locker room down 36-31, but seemed to amp up the intensity as they stuck with the 1-4 offense after making 10 first half turnovers. The game had a definite flow to it for the first 12 minutes: UCLA would execute its offense, get a good look for Dan or Matt inside or for Jason, Billy or Dijon outside, and the Bruins closed the gap to 2-3 points. Then the Bruins would make a crucial turnover or take a bad shot, and ASU used its quickness to get an easy shot at the other end to widen the lead again to 5-6 points. Chad Prewitt was also getting himself free outside the arc and knocking down every 3 in a great clutch effort.

ASU led 57-52, with 8:02 left. Sun Devils' Head Coach Rob Evans rested Prewitt, and then UCLA finally seemed poised to take control of the game with a 7-0 run which included a 3 by Jason, a nice short J by Ced after a dribble penetration into the lane and then 2 FTs by Jason after Evans was called for a "T." But after Curtis Millage hit a great short banker over Dan's outstretched hands to tie it, UCLA committed two turnovers in a row and ASU got the lead back on FTs, 61-59, with 5:57 to go.

Matt Barnes took a bad shot from 22 feet out in the deep corner, but made it to give UCLA the lead back. Matt then took another awful shot and missed, but Ced slithered inside for the tip-in. 64-61, UCLA. After Braxton drove through the lane for a layup as no one rotated to cut him off, Matt took still another terrible shot. Billy got the rebound, drew the foul and hit both FTs. UCLA was up 66-63, with 3:35 left.

Lavin subbed TJ Cummings for Matt, which is sort of like going from bad to worse in a crucial situation. Naturally, TJ totally lost contact with Prewitt on a switch and Prewitt sank the 3. 66-66. Then TJ fumbled the ball out of bounds at the other end. Lavin re-inserted Matt, but the damage was done. ASU missed on its next shot, but fouled Dan down at the other end off the ball. Dan missed the one and one with 1:41 left.

ASU missed another shot, but Dan was called for traveling on the rebound after he crashed to the floor. ASU missed again, but Jason threw up an awful shot attempt after UCLA ran the clock down and ASU came down and Millage sank a tough 3 with two Bruin hands right in his face with 14 seconds to go. 69-66, ASU. Matt made two FTs with 7 seconds left to make it 69-68, but UCLA couldn't get any closer as they repeatedly fouled the Sun Devils on the in-bounds pass to get ASU into the bonus.

Kyle Dodd finally went to the foul line with 2.3 seconds left and missed the one and one. Billy grabbed the rebound… and traveled. End of the game.

UCLA falls to 17-8 overall and 9-5 in the Pac-10. The Bruins, Arizona and California all have 5 losses each now, while USC, Oregon and Stanford have 4 losses apiece. So, theoretically, UCLA (tied with Cal for 6th in the conference) is still in the hunt for the Pac-10 title.

But I don't think they have any shot at all to win the Pac-10 title. Indeed, it will be interesting to see if the Bruins can even win more than 1 of their remaining 4 regular season games.

The Bruins led Arizona by 20, but lost their poise and were outscored by 30 points in 13 minutes. Poor shot selection and unforced turnovers resulting from more bad decisions from this veteran team characterized their play.

UCLA was up 57-53 against Stanford in the second half when SR Matt Barnes went 1-6 from the FT line and Stanford took control of the game.

The Oregon game quickly became a blowout after the Bruins collectively took numerous bad shots and made a series of truly stunning decisions from the opening tip.

The Bruins seemed to be in control of the USC game at Pauley when they suddenly began turning the ball over and taking bad shots late in the game.

Key turnovers and bad shots down the stretch doomed the Bruins against both Villanova and ASU.

At this point, the Alabama, Kansas and Georgetown games are meaningless. UCLA is playing in the second half of the conference schedule, and the Bruins appear to lack the ability to execute on a consistent basis. They also continue to be very inconsistent in their intensity at both ends.

I think this game pretty much sums up UCLA's team to date:

No team leader. Earl Watson has not been replaced, by committee or otherwise.

The veterans, mainly Jason Kapono, Billy Knight and Matt Barnes, will just as often make crucial mistakes and fail to bring their "A" game to the court as they will succeed in doing both. Poise for 15 minutes against USC and for 25 minutes against Arizona won't get it done in the NCAA Tournament and down the stretch in the Pac-10.

When a group of veteran players fails to consistently play hard and play smart, some of the blame must obviously lie with those players, but some of it must just as obviously lie with the coaching staff. These players have played for the coaches for 3-5 years now, after all.

In addition, UCLA's best players just don't seem to have the athleticism and all-around skills that characterize players like Casey Jacobsen, Curtis Borchardt, Sam Clancy, Brandon Granville, Jason Gardner, Luke Walton, Luke Ridnour and Fred Jones. The Bruins appear to be the 5th most talented team in the conference. That is either a recruiting problem or a development problem. Either way, it's a coaching problem.

The freshmen aren't ready to take over or make up for the veterans' shortcomings. The blame for that must also be accorded to the coaching staff as much as to the players.

Enough of blame. The blame game can drive everyone nuts, and whatever is going to happen with this coaching staff will sort itself out after the season, with decisions being made by people having nothing to do with BRO.

Dan Gadzuric played another very strong game and finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and a block. He did miss a lot of easy shots, but he also scored very well inside the paint.

Ced Bozeman also played a strong game, with 13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers. Ced hit his only 3 attempt and made both of his FTs, and took the ball into the lane with more authority than he's shown all season. Maybe Ryan's performance on Thursday night jarred something loose.

Jason got 13 points and 4 rebounds in 37 minutes. He took only 7 shots the whole game. I noticed the coaches gesturing to Jason to shoot more on 4 separate occasions during the game. Why the coaches need to convince Jason to take more shots at this stage of the season, I have no clue.

Matt registered 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers. Billy missed a lot of wide open shots, took some bad shots off-balance, and wound up going 1-5 from 3, 2-8 overall. He had 7 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 turnovers.

TJ had 2 points, 5 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 17 minutes, and he was 1-4 from the field. I think it's long past the time when Andre should have replaced TJ in the lineup. But that's just my opinion. Andre got to play 5 minutes and grabbed a rebound.

Dijon Thompson hit a 3 and got 3 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist in 8 minutes. He needs to play more. Ryan Walcott got 3 points (a 3), 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 14 minutes. He needs to shoot more (he's now 4-8 from 3 for the season). In fact, I'd sub him in for Billy and play Ryan and Ced together in the same backcourt. But that's just my opinion.

Rico played 3 minutes, got an assist, a turnover and a missed shot.

Prewitt was 5-5 from 3 and led ASU with 22 points and 8 rebounds. Millage added 11. ASU was 5-10 from 3 in the second half. That will be the only game all season where ASU hits 5-10 from 3 in a half, and where Chad hits 5-5 for the game. UCLA didn't play bad defense, ASU just made some shots they normally would brick.

But the Bruins should've beaten this team by 10, so that those surprise 3s wouldn't have mattered so much. Lavin should have pulled the team out of that motion much earlier in the game. In fact, he ought to only run the motion deeper in the game, rather than starting with it, and only use it for 3-4 minute stretches, and not at all against a quick Cal team, which can pressure the ball like ASU. But that's just my opinion…

For the game, UCLA shot 45.3% from the field, 44.4% from 3, and 75% from the FT line. ASU shot 44.1% from the field, 42.1% from 3 and 64.3% from the FT line. ASU shot 53.8% from the field in the second half.

UCLA started this week 1st in the Pac-10 in team 3-point FG% defense at 32%. After Arizona's 50% and ASU's 42.1%, that will change fast. And 3 of the 4 teams still to face UCLA shoot the 3 better than ASU…

UCLA outrebounded ASU 37-30, 20-9 in the second half. But the Bruins only got 7 offensive rebounds, of which 5 led to scores. UCLA made 18 turnovers to ASU's 9, negating its rebounding edge and giving the Sun Devils the advantage in possessions.

Next week, UCLA travels to Cal and Stanford.

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