UCLA, Farmar Can't Pull it Out

UCLA looks tentative in the first half but then, behind 28 points by Jordan Farmar, stage a second-half comeback, albeit too late of one, to fall to Memphis, 88-80, in the NIT semifinal...

Down 51-34 at the half and dominated in all facets of the game, UCLA had a chance to just pack it in at that point. But behind the red-hot shooting of Jordan Farmar and a renewed effort on defense which really started paying off with about 7 minutes to go, the Bruins made it a close game in the end and finished with a respectable 88-80 loss to a Memphis Tiger's squad which can match any in the country in its combination of athleticism, skills, depth and size.

In that first half, Memphis pressed UCLA all over the floor, making an especial effort to keep the ball out of the hands of Jordan Farmar. The Bruins opened the game with a rash of turnovers, more off forcing the break and trying to beat the press down the floor than losing the ball to the press itself, but that's what a press does, it makes you hurry, and UCLA's offense was definitely in a hurry in the first half. Surprisingly, the Bruins were able to get the ball inside to their post men, Ryan Hollins and Mike Fey, who scored a combined 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but Farmar, Arron Afflalo and Cedric Bozeman were generally ineffectual. Neither Jordan nor Arron could get good shots, and while Ced penetrated effectively, he had a hard time finishing around the basket.

UCLA's defense in that first half seemed non-existent at times, although Arron did a good job of keeping in front of Darius Washington, who was hobbled by a deep thigh bruise and wasn't moving with his normal grace. But Memphis' freshman star Shawne Williams poured in 5 3s and scored 20 points, seeming to toy with Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, who simply couldn't handle a player with Williams' level of talent (which is an NBA level of talent). And, while Fey and Hollins blocked some shots, they couldn't keep the Memphis big men off the boards and the Tigers got some easy putbacks. Basically, they just ran past, around and over the Bruins in the first half.

Howland apparently gave his team a good talking to in the locker room at halftime and the Bruins came out and gave a much stronger effort on defense in the second half. They were quicker on their feet, more physical and closed quickly with double teams when Memphis got the ball inside. They also did a much better job of getting back on breaks and started closing down the Tigers' fastbreak offense. Even when the Bruins were still down for 12-16 points for the first 10 minutes of the second half, the game definitely had a different feel to it. Jordan was using his quick hands on double teams to cause some turnovers, Arron, Ced and Luc did a much better job denying the pass to the wing and even Hollins and Fey made solid contributions on defense. Darren Collison also played good defense in that second half as well as making some good decisions with the ball on the offensive end of the floor.

But Jordan Farmar was really the story for the Bruins' offense and their big comeback during the stretch drive, when the Bruins managed to cut the Tiger's lead to 6 points and then kept the pressure on until the final minute. Jordan, who had looked slow in this game and his last game, and who started out the season missing his first 10 attempts from 3, just went on a tear, hitting 4-6 from 3 and blowing past his defender for drives into the lane. He scored 23 points in the second half, most of them in the final 10 minutes of the game, and finished with 28 overall as well as dishing out 7 assists and grabbing 5 rebounds (he made 5 turnovers, but 3 of those came in the first 5 minutes of the game). This was his first Jordan-esque effort of the season, and it came in a big game. Hopefully, it signals that he's finally healthy, has regained his rhythm and is ready to lead the Bruins from here on out.

Arron had 14 points and 6 rebounds, knocking down a trio of treys. I would have liked to see Arron take the ball to the basket more and post up inside, but Memphis had a compliment of big, strong, physical guards and 4 players 6-9 or taller underneath, so perhaps I'm asking for too much. When he was assigned to guard Washington, Arron did a very solid job on him. It's a sign of how good he is that he could still post solid numbers in a big game like this where he wasn't at his best.

Ced had 11 points and 5 rebounds and kept Rodney Carney from going berserk, but like Arron Ced had a solid game but not a really good game. He missed too many close shots inside that really could have set Memphis back on its heels and also missed some passing opportunities when he broke down the Memphis defense. His misses also contributed to UCLA not getting back on defense on some Tigers breaks. Ced has turned into a very good player for the Bruins, but at times he seemed out of his depth amongst all this athleticism. Obviously, Ced will never be the player he was after his knee surgery, but his good defense and ability to get into the lane should continue to make him a major factor for the Bruins this season. With the exception of Arizona and Washington, he's unlikely to face such athletic players again for the rest of the season.

Michael Fey had one of his best games for the Bruins, scoring 13 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and blocking one shot, as well as giving the Bruins some credible size at both ends. He showed good hands and caught and controlled the ball well to score inside easily against the inexperienced Tigers' big men. He did get beat to a lot of rebounds, but Mike is just too slow off his feet to ever be an effective rebounder. If he can just be a solid and consistent scorer for the Bruins, that will make a big difference. The Pac-10 isn't loaded with talented big men this year and perhaps Mike can make an impact.

Ryan Hollins also played a solid game with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks. He played pretty good help defense throughout the game, cutting off some Memphis drives into the lane and switching well in addition to blocking those shots. Like Mike, he had trouble keeping Memphis' big men off the offensive glass. Still, if the Bruins could get 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks per game from their post players, they'd be in pretty good shape. But I wouldn't count on it.

Luc Richard Mbah A Moute was good on the glass yet again, finishing with 7 rebounds to go with his 4 points. As I noted above, he was overwhelmed by Shawne Williams in the first half. In the second half, Memphis seemed to stop looking for Williams. I'd like to credit Luc's defense, but that isn't the whole story. Still, Luc certainly played solid d in the second half and with his ever-present intensity and effort contributed a lot to the Bruins' second half surge even if he wasn't scoring. The Bruins set him up a couple of times down the stretch, which I found odd and which proved to have unfortunate results. Luc still has a long way to go on his offensive game (he made 4 turnovers against the Memphis press), but with his work ethic he should continue to improve throughout the year as well as throughout his career at UCLA.

Darren Collison had 2 points and 3 assists, but the numbers don't measure his contributions. Although he got muscled aside a couple of times by Washington, he did a good job on Memphis' point guards, using his quickness to stay in front of them. On offense, he did a good job of taking care of the ball and running the team and made some very nice passes.

Mike Roll seemed out of place in this type of game.

Overall, the Bruins shot 38.8% from the field, compared to 53.4% for Memphis (but Memphis shot 61% in the first half, so they definitely cooled off in the second half). The Bruins wound up making only 14 turnovers against the Memphis fullcourt pressure defense, and 5 of those turnovers seemed to come in the first 4 minutes. Memphis turned the ball over 19 times, a combination of their breakneck style and UCLA's improved second-half defensive effort.

The final analysis of a game like this is very simple. Memphis is an extremely deep, talented, athletic team. They were just too much for UCLA at this stage of the season. Their inexperience may tell against Duke, but then if you look around the country you will see that virtually all of the top 25 teams are relying on freshmen to play key roles this season. That is a sign of the times. Although Jordan Farmar was phenomenal down the stretch and the Bruin defense really tightened up in the second half, I never believed they could win. Without Josh Shipp to add his skills and inside-outside game and Alfred Aboya to add athleticism as well as muscle inside, the Bruins just aren't good enough to beat the top teams yet. Yes, they made this game close, but I had the definite sense that Memphis let up in the second half. Calipari definitely played his stars fewer minutes, no doubt already looking ahead to Duke on Friday night. The Bruins can look ahead to Drexel, which looks to be a solid team that played a great game against an early season Duke team.

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