UCLA Double Teams Ole Miss, 80-58

UCLA plays a good, solid game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, using a two-team approach to overcome overmatched Mississippi...

Steve Lavin sent BOTH UCLA teams out against Mississippi Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and the Bruins came away with a surprisingly easy 80-58 victory.

The first UCLA team consists of Ced Bozeman, Billy Knight, Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes and Dan Gadzuric. This is a slow muscle team that can shoot 3s and also score inside with Dan's power moves, but an extreme lack of quickness forces the squad to play a passive zone, and a lack of ballhandling acumen often results in too many turnovers.

The second UCLA team consists of Ryan Walcott, Rico Hines, Dijon Thompson, Andre Patterson and TJ Cummings. This is a quick finesse team that can shoot 3s and also score inside with slashing drives from, well, everyone. Great quickness allows the squad to play an aggressive zone trap press and man or zone defense, and a load of ballhandling acumen allows a lot of easy baskets as the defense breaks down off dribble penetration.

Lavin has unleashed both teams only once before this season, in the second half against Oregon. Last night, he used both teams in each half and the result tied UCLA's biggest margin of victory, 22 points, which the Bruins had previously achieved against Alabama and Oregon State.

The Bruins were down 10-9 in an ugly game when the second squad came on the floor. When it left, UCLA was up 28-16 and yours truly was screaming himself horse and jumping up and down a lot. After Mississippi's Aaron Harper bombed in three 3s in a row to help the Rebels climb to within 29-26, the first UCLA squad decided they wanted to play defense too and went on a 7-0 run to finish the first half up 36-26. The Bruin streak was capped by Billy Knight's 3 at the buzzer. The Bruins have probably set some kind of record this year for last-second shots at the end of one half or the other.

The Rebels shot the ball very poorly in this game. A question going in was whether the team that led the SEC in 3-point FG percentage could do it without getting effective dribble penetration or inside-out play. The answer to that question turned out to be an emphatic "No!" The Bruins' defenses, whether they were in the 1-2-2 matchup zone or the man, did a good job of preventing Jason Harrison and David Sanders from penetrating. Ole Miss did the rest by rarely even attempting to get the ball inside. As a result, almost all of the Rebels' 3-point attempts came out of rhythm. And let me tell you, these guys ain't Oregon or Stanford or Arizona…

Billy Knight started out the first half by knocking down three straight 3s of his own, two on gorgeous transition passes from Ced Bozeman as Ole Miss came out like they were tired. Dan then got a dunk on another fast break feed from Ced and UCLA was up 47-26 and that was all she wrote. The Rebels climbed to within 15 at one stage, if "to within 15" can be considered "climbing," but the Bruins controlled the game until the final buzzer.

So, I predicted UCLA to lose by 8 and they won by 22. What happened? Besides my usual getting it all wrong…

First, as I suggested (notice how I turn this to my advantage and take credit for it) Lavin decided to trust his FR (really, his second unit is more accurate, since Rico is a SR and TJ a SO). The two squads practice as distinct units and apparently they play much better as distinct units as well. The second unit is able to place a lot of defensive pressure on the ball and Ole Miss was, as pointed out, not a sure-handed team even in the best of times. The Rebels committed 18 turnovers, 11 against the second team. The second team only played together for 12 minutes.

The second team also converted off those turnovers, something we just don't see from the first team. Ole Miss was forced into an unexpected transition game (between the pressure and having to get back on defense) and since the Rebels only go 6 deep, they wore out pretty fast. That also played a factor in Mississippi's cold shooting. Tired legs are tired legs.

Other benefits of the second unit playing well and often: 10 defenders over the course of the game instead of 7-8. Again, this enabled UCLA to play more aggressively and effectively in the zone even when the first team was on the floor and helped wear down Ole Miss even more. Dijon Thompson has been displaying his offensive wares for the last 2 weeks, but never more so than last night. This young man is a special talent as a scorer and might in fact be UCLA's most versatile and effective offensive player. Ryan Walcott plays with poise, can really break down a defense off the dribble and applies terrific defensive pressure on the ball. And TJ Cummings starts playing like a real post player when he's the only post player on the floor. TJ had a monster offensive rebound jam and played one of the best games of his career.

Lavin used Ryan a lot with the first team, and TJ and Dijon got some time with them as well. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that both Dan and Billy got time with the second unit. Lavin also has his "FT shooting" team for the ends of halves, when Ryan, Dijon and Billy join Jason and TJ. UCLA made 16-17 FTs in this game. Lavin was also able to leverage his second team to give a couple of recalcitrant vets the hook at appropriate moments during the game. Though subbing in the FR to play with the SRs might've seemed like a punishment to the FR last night…

Second, Ole Miss couldn't find its rhythm from the outside. As I said, UCLA's ability to keep the ball out of the lane probably had an effect here, as it has in many Bruin games this season (there's a reason why UCLA led the Pac-10 in 3-point FG percentage defense). Maybe the Rebels were just cold. Maybe 5-5 Jason Harrison just couldn't see over those tall UCLA guys. Even Ryan towered over him. Ryan in particular did a great job keeping Harrison from penetrating and dishing. Ole Miss shot 33.9% for the game and hit 10-35 3s (28.6%). Jason Harrison was 0-9 from the field and 0-6 from 3. Shooting stars David Sanders (3-9) and Aaron Harper (6-17) fizzled more than they sizzled.

Third, UCLA played a more structured offense for most of the game. The Bruins probably used their 1-4 for about 30 minutes last night and Ole Miss looked like they were caught off guard. Although UCLA made 17 turnovers for the game, they only made 8 in the final 32 minutes. And the team hit 51% of its FGs and 8-17 3s. We haven't seen that kind of shooting since… well, since UCLA abandoned the 1-4 offense. Lavin claims he will still use the motion when appropriate. I'm not certain it will ever be appropriate against Cincinnati. But I'd love to see it next year, a 3 out, 2 in. From the start of practice, not in February…

Billy Knight busted out of a 6-week slump by smoking 5-7 3s en route to 21 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Dijon Thompson got 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals and looks really long out there on the zone press. He was 6-8 from the floor (2-3 from 3) and made both FTs. Dan Gadzuric was very solid with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was a strong defensive presence inside and avoided foul trouble at the same time. TJ Cummings had 8 points and 6 rebounds. Rico Hines fired in a 3, scored off a nice drive, hit both foul shots, played good d and wound up with 7 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals (and 0 turnovers) in 16 minutes.

Matt Barnes had 6 points and 8 rebounds. He was very good on the defensive glass (though it seemed as if half his rebounds were tipped to him by Dan), but his 6 turnovers were painful to watch (just give the ball to the PG, Matt, and get out of the way!). Andre Patterson registered 5 points and 2 rebounds and scored on a sweet drive where he split the defenders and took it to the hole. Ryan Walcott got 4 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and 2 turnovers in 23 minutes. Why not play him 25 minutes per game every night? Jason Kapono had 2 points and 2 turnovers. Jason was pretty bad, but to his credit (and unlike Matt) he didn't force too many shots or plays and just let the other guys handle things. Ced Bozeman got 5 assists to 3 turnovers. He just needs to play with the second team more and he will rack up a ton of assists. Josiah Johnson added 2 points at the end.

Ole Miss drops to 20-11 and goes home. UCLA improves to 20-11 and now moves into the second round of the NCAA Tournament to play the #1 seed in the West Regional, Cincinnati (31-3). The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in San Jose next week…


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