UCLA Survives Ugly Stretch, Beats DSU

Without possibly three or four starters, UCLA struggled through a long stretch in its win over slow-down Delaware State, but again Ced Bozeman and Arron Afflalo were key, 56-37...

UCLA defeated Delaware State 56-37 Saturday night and the game was many things, but it certainly wasn't pretty.

The Bruins simply made way too many turnovers against a Hornets squad which didn't earn that many turnovers. They jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first 4 minutes and it looked like they were going to go to town on their opponents. Then they started throwing a lot of bad passes. On the other end, Delaware State didn't play with much passion or creativity, basically holding the ball for 30 seconds each possession before forcing up a last second shot, but the Bruins' defense didn't produce many turnovers or get the break going and for the second game in a row the Bruins were forced to rely mainly on their half-court offense to score.

As we all know by now, the UCLA half-court offense is static and predictable and not that hard to choke off. Delaware State took advantage of the fact that Bruin ball handlers often hold the ball for too long and rarely look inside to pass to their post players by double-teaming the UCLA players out near half court and frequently trapping them in the corners, leading to a turnover or a hurried shot by the Bruins with the clock winding down. The result was that the Bruins only scored 14 points in the final 16 minutes of the first half (leading just 27-17 at halftime) and then continued to struggle to score in the second half until about 6 minutes were left to go. The Bruins were credited with 16 turnovers in the game; 12 came in the first half.

At the 6-miunte mark in the second half, UCLA had a 44-35 lead. The Hornets had been working on cutting the Bruins' tenuous lead for 14 minutes, getting it down to 6 on a couple of possessions. But with 6 minutes remaining, either Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Cedric Bozeman finally figured out what they were doing wrong or the UCLA coaches did. If the latter was the case, it marked the second game in a row in which it took the staff a long time to make what turned out to be a simple adjustment. Instead of just dribbling the ball out near half-court and waiting for the Delaware State double-team to come and trap the ball handler, the Bruin ball handlers split the double team before it closed, forced the Hornets' wings to collapse and set up a wide open look from 3 for either Mike Roll or Ced Bozeman. The result was 4 straight Bruin treys and a 12-2 UCLA run, and the game was finally over and done with.

The Bruin defense was again strong in this game, although they had some breakdowns in the second half caused either by quick 5-9 Darren Shine, athletic 6-3 Tracey Worley or mobile 6-9 post man Aaron Fleetwood, who left Ryan Hollins nailed to the floor on a couple of occasions (the Hornets shot only 29% in the first half, but made 53% of their few shots in the second half, mainly thanks to dribble penetration). Afflalo and Bozeman took turns guarding Hornets' star Jahsha Bluntt and limited him to 11 points, although one must admit that the Hornets' offense doesn't make a particular point of looking for Bluntt or setting him up for shots. The Hornets just slowed the game way down, literally dribbling the clock away on every possession, but the Bruin defenders did a great job of just staying in front of their men and not letting Delaware State get into the lane very often in the first half and a solid job of doing the same in the second half (Mata and Roll had trouble with their help d in that second half). As a measure of how slow the game was (and of the Bruin turnover count), the Hornets managed only 16 rebounds for the entire game (UCLA had 27). I'm not sure I've ever seen a college game where one of the teams only had 16 rebounds.

Stats-wise, Bozeman and Aflalo were again the leaders for UCLA. Ced was 3-3 from 3 and scored 15 points in addition to playing great defense at 4 different positions during the night. He barely missed on a couple of floaters in the lane and came close to playing a flawless game. I think he played the entire second half until finally sitting with a minute to go. Arron missed some jumpers, but added a pair of 3s and contributed 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists to go with his usual excellent defense.

Luc Richard Mbah A Moute had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists and also played very good defense. He has to be one of the best freshman defenders in the country, and he showed off his ball handling and passing skills in this game. If he adds a mid-range jumper off the dribble, this young man is going to turn out to be a real steal for UCLA. Strike that, he's already a real steal for them, since he just wasn't rated that highly as a high school player and he's already a good starting forward. He could be much more than that as his game develops over the course of his career.

Darren Collison got his first start and almost made a mess of it, making 4 turnovers in the first half and playing a very uncertain, hesitant game for most of the night. In the last 6 minutes, he either got the confidence or the go-ahead to use his great quickness to split the defense and he made some excellent passing decisions during that last Bruin run. He finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 official assists (I had him with 6 assists in my stat book) and didn't commit a turnover in the second half. His defense, while certainly not outstanding, was adequate. Darren is one of those players who must learn the Wooden adage, "Be quick, but don't hurry." Overall, it was a creditable first start for the freshman. He was faced off against a very quick veteran point guard, and the Bruins' half-court offense just isn't designed to utilize all of Darren's skills. No doubt, the offense will be redesigned when Jordan Farmar heads off to the NBA and Collison takes over the team.

Mike Roll can be a frustrating player to watch. He needs a lot of separation to shoot the ball and has trouble creating on his own. He'll follow up a sharp pass with a real boner. Sometimes he's ready to make a real contribution on defense and sometimes he has no clue where he's supposed to be. Oh, that's right: He's a freshman! Mike got separation on 5 shots tonight behind the arc and he drilled 3 of them, with a pair of treys coming in that last crucial run for the Bruins between the 6 and 3 minute mark in the second half. Like Darren, Mike will surely improve step by step over the course of the year and he should continue to make real contributions off the bench, even if they do come in bunches.

The Bruin big men were very ineffectual despite facing a team with little post presence. Ryan Hollins just lacks the bulk to get consistent position inside and he lacks the competitive fire to make up for that lack of heft. If he doesn't start throwing down some of those dunks his teammates set up for him, they'll stop passing him the ball. He had 3 points and 4 rebounds in this game. The Bruins already refuse to pass Lorenzo Mata the ball. On one play, the Hornets made a switch on d and Lorenzo found himself 2 feet from the basket with the 5-9 Shine on his back. Arron Afflalo looked in at Mata and simply would not pass him the ball. Lorenzo did get a nice offensive rebound bucket en route to 3 points and 3 rebounds, but the Bruins are going to need more than 6 points from their post players if they are forced to play a half court game, as they surely will be at least once more this season. Ryan Wright came in for the last 40 seconds and grabbed a rebound. I vote to give him more playing time, especially since Mata's teammates seem to lack confidence in him.

Despite the turnovers and uncertainty of their post game and half-court offense (it should be noted that the Bruins were 8-15 from 3 in this game), UCLA is now 3-0 and off to New York to play a very talented, athletic Memphis team on Wednesday. The Bruins won't have to worry about a slow-down game or a stifling zone; this will be a real game with high major talent and a fast pace. Jordan Farmar was walking without a trace of a limp and I assume he will be 100% for next week. I don't know if Mike Fey will be there; the Bruins can really use his bulk. Next week's game will be a much better indicator of where the Bruins really stand at this point of the season than their first 3 games, which at times resembled chess matches as much as basketball games.

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