The Aggies presented the Bruins with a level of quickness, especially at the point guard positions, and athleticism inside, which marked a big difference from the two teams UCLA played in its exhibition games. The athleticism inside didn't hurt the Bruins so much, since New Mexico State's big men proved strangely passive, but Aggies guards 6-0 Elijah Ingram (24 points) and 5-11 Shaun Davis (14 points) repeatedly abused the Bruin guards, penetrating to the basket with ease and shaking off defenders for open looks from the outside.
Indeed, this game might have turned out much closer if Ingram hadn't hurt his foot with 6:32 left in the game. He had just knocked down back to back 3s to cut a 17-point Bruin lead to 11 and UCLA turned the ball over on the play where Ingram was injured. UCLA immediately built the lead back up to 17. Ingram came back to play in the last minute, but the game was over by then.
Indeed, from about the 9:30 mark in the first half until the end of the game, the contest seemed to have a regular ebb and flow, with UCLA building up a 14-18 point lead and then New Mexico State staging a little come back before the Aggies would turn the ball over and take a bad shot and the Bruins would score twice in transition and bring the lead back up again. Indeed, transition was the name of the game Tuesday night, as the Bruins repeatedly scored easy baskets at the other end off turnovers and defensive rebounds. Despite the breakdowns against the quick Ingram and Davis, the Bruins otherwise played another game of excellent pressure defense and turned that into points.
That's a fortunate facet of UCLA's game, because New Mexico State often gave the Bruins trouble when they had to resort to their half court offense. Until that 9:30 mark in the first half, UCLA really struggled to score in the half court. New Mexico State was switching aggressively off screens and really neutralized the Bruins' screen and cut offense.
What happened at the 9:30 mark? Arron Afflalo took over the game. He scored 12 points in the last 9:30 of the first half, even though he probably sat out a minute and a half for a little breather. Yes, he got one bucket in transition, but the rest of his points came on a three-pointer, a drive and a lot of one-on-one posting up of the shorter, less physical New Mexico State guards. I assume Ben Howland whispered something to Arron at the 9:30 mark, but whatever happened Arron started breaking down the Aggies' defense almost single-handedly and that's what allowed the Bruins to take their first double-digit lead of the game and then build it into a 59-44 halftime lead.
The second half was more of the ebb and flow I wrote about above. UCLA would build the lead up, then give it a way some, then build it back up. The Bruins never led by more than 18 or less than 11. Howland made some adjustments at halftime, directing his big men to roll more aggressively to the basket after setting a screen, and Mike Fey scored 3 interior baskets in the second half while Ryan Hollins and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute got 2 inside buckets apiece. In the first half, Ryan Hollins got a 15-footer and Fey and Lorenzo Mata each added a free throw. That was it for the Bruins' interior game for the first half until Arron took over.
This was a very good game for the Bruins because it gave them a chance to play a team with the quickness to stay with them. The Bruin defense was nevertheless able to force turnovers, and the break was in full swing off those turnovers and defensive rebounds. Admittedly, New Mexico State does have 7 new players this year and a new coach, and their frequent confusion on offense wasn't entirely due to the Bruins' defense. And some individual cracks showed in the UCLA seams.
Both Darren Collison (4 points, 2 assists) and Mike Roll (5 points, including a 3, and 2 assists) struggled against New Mexico State's quickness and pressure man defense and frequent switches off screens (the Aggies zoned 3 times on out-of-bounds plays and UCLA scored easily all 3 times; Reggie Theus might want to rethink that strategy). Collison had an especially hard time trying to participate in the offense against Shaun Davis, and Roll struggled to execute in the offense as well, although he made a couple of nice passes. Obviously, the Bruin frosh guards have some growing up to do. With Temple and its compliment of huge, athletic guards coming in on Thursday, they won't have much time to do it.
Hollins (6 points, 6 rebounds) actually rebounded well and played good defense, and he got those nice buckets inside in the second half, but he was again plagued by foul trouble, a constant source of trouble last season. The Aggies' big men weren't aggressive at all inside, and most of Ryan's fouls were unnecessary. Some of Mike Fey's fouls were non-existent (I really think the refs blew it twice with Mike). For a guy who's had two days of practice, Mike performed reasonably well, getting 7 points and 2 rebounds and presenting himself as a real obstacle on defense and setting some good screens on offense. He also caught some difficult passes and converted the buckets and if he can do that on a team with Farmar, Bozeman, Aflalo, Mbah A Moute and Collison all capable of feeding the post, maybe Mike is going to show some real improvement this year. He could challenge for that starting spot sooner than anticipated. The less said about Lorenzo Mata this game, the better.
Mbah A Moute had a very good game (6 points, 8 rebounds), especially on the defensive end. Tyrone Nelson (7 points) may have been dominant in the Aggies' exhibition games, but he appeared soft and sometimes even uninterested with Luc guarding him. Nelson and 7-0 Trevor Lawrence (6 points) showed no inclination to either bang on the boards or get back in transition for the Aggies and were a major source of the Bruins' success at running so many fast breaks.
Ced Bozeman (13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) had another outstanding game, and may be slow to leave the starting lineup even after Josh Shipp returns. Ced's ability to pass the ball, penetrate and play killer d is really contributing to the Bruins' successful execution of Ben Howland's game plan early this year. He also guarded the 6-9 Nelson and kept him in check, as well as handling the Aggies' Shon Caston (3 points) and Ted Knauber (7 points) at times. He's remarkably versatile and only lacks the outside shot to be a primetime player.
Jordan Farmar struggled somewhat for most of the first half, although made some nice passes, and he couldn't keep up with Ingram defensively, but he had a very strong second half, scoring off the break, in penetration and off the jumper, spreading the ball around and using his ball knowledge and quick hands to help get some steals and cause some turnovers when he fell back into the passing lanes or switched onto a bigger player. Jordan finished the game with 18 points and 8 assists and this was against a team with some very quick guards, so I'll stick to my prediction that Jordan is going to have a huge year this season and then turn pro.
Arron Afflalo finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists and, as noted, was the real star of this game for UCLA. He had 16 of his points in the first half and then played under control in the second half, adding 7 more points, moving the ball on offense, not forcing things after the big first-half run and playing good d throughout. Arron stroked 2 3s and they both hit nothing but net. His shot isn't pretty, but he did make 38% of his 3s last year and that's a pretty solid percentage. He had a huge size and strength advantage against the Aggies and he'll get his first real workout of the season against those big Temple guards.
Overall, this was a good first game for the Bruins. They showed they could still force turnovers and get out in transition even against a quick team which did hit 48% of their shots for the game. In the second half, Ben Howland made some adjustments and they found a post offense against a team with some players who are at least tall and agile, if not very aggressive. Temple will present a whole other magnitude of challenge. They are particularly noted for making fewer turnovers than anyone around. If the Bruins can't run their full court game against the Owls, it will be interesting to see if they can win a game relying mainly on their half-court offense.