UCLA Lapses But Beats Albany

Probably the best news out of Pauley Pavilion Tuesday night concerned a guy sitting on the bench, rather than what was seen on the floor --which was a poor performance the Bruins put in to beat a mediocre Albany team, 73-65...

Earlier in the day, the news was bleak, that UCLA had lost Jordan Farmar for an indefinite period of time, possibly four to six weeks after aggravating his ankle injury. It's the same ankle he twice injured already this year and which has definitely affected his play so far this season.

But the latest from Head Coach Ben Howland in his post-game comments to the media is that Farmar's injury is not a stress fracture but just a sprained ankle, and he's considered day-to-day (Howland's comments are coming later).

That is probably more important news than the fact that UCLA beat Albany Tuesday night, 73-65. This was a game of streaks, with first UCLA, then Albany and finally the Bruins again having a scoring run that finally helped them win the game. Overall, the Bruins played without passion on both offense and defense. Basically, UCLA let Albany come back from a big first-half deficit and keep it close throughout the second half with a static offense, lots of turnovers and often lackadaisical defense.

UCLA was down 11-8 early in the first half, mainly because for some bizarre reason they chose to guard 5-9 Jon Iati with 6-5 Arron Afflalo. Arron is UCLA's best defender, but he can't keep track of a 5-9 guy, and Iati bombed in 3 3s in the first 2 minutes of the game. But at that point, UCLA began using its size advantage at the wing and some expected 3-point shooting from Arron Afflalo and some unexpected 3-point shooting from Cedric Bozeman to go on an 11-0 run on the way to outscoring the Great Danes 30-8, taking a 38-19 lead.

At that point, the game should've been over. Apparently, the UCLA players decided it was over and took the rest of the half off as Albany closed out with a 14-0 run. Albany took advantage of UCLA chasing its guards around and started getting the ball inside with some crisp motion and accurate passing. Although the Bruins blocked some shots, they nonetheless conceded deep post position to Albany over and over. And unless Luc Richard Mbah A Moute was inside to grab the rebound, it seemed to fall to the Great Danes every time either as an offensive rebound or the Bruin big men fumbling the rebound out of bounds and Albany had numerous second (and sometimes third) chances against the Bruins. The Bruins were also hurt by numerous turnovers, many of them offensive fouls called against the big men for setting illegal screens.

In the second half, UCLA continued to turn the ball over and not execute well against the Albany zone (Albany did have a big backline to their credit). UCLA's defense remained listless and Albany outscored the Bruins 16-10 to open the second half and take their first lead of the game, 44-43. With the score 46-45 Albany, UCLA seemed to solve the zone and got some open 3s to go on an 8-0 run, going up 53-46. At that point, UCLA's lead fluctuated between 5-8 points for the rest of the game, although Albany certainly had its chances to make the game closer.

Playing without Jordan Farmar, UCLA started Darren Collison and Darren was responsible for 5 of the UCLA turnovers and for most of the game played like a deer caught in headlights, constantly over dribbling the ball and slowing the Bruin offense to a crawl (actually, all of the Bruins except Mike Roll over dribble the ball and they've been doing it all year long). Ben Howland was forced to move Ced to the point to get enough breakdowns of the Albany zone enough times for UCLA to win the game. Late in the game, basically playing the 2 position, Darren scored 8 points in the last 8 minutes of the game, including 2 3s from the corner, and he finished with 10 points and 3 assists. But he definitely played a poor game overall in his second start of the season and UCLA badly needs Darren to find his composure and aggressiveness pretty damn fast or UCLA could lose to the next Albany they play (and they will lose to Nevada and Michigan if Jordan can't play barring major improvement from Darren).

Arron Afflalo led the Bruins with 22 points, hitting 8-14 shots overall and 3-7 from 3 and pulling down 7 rebounds. He had a hard time guarding Albany's quick guards and repeatedly tried to beat the Great Danes' zone by dribbling into the lane, which didn't work very well. But he was aggressive in getting out on the break, the only Bruin to try and beat the Albany players down the floor. A one-man transition game is unlikely to be very successful. Supposedly, the Bruins worked on their transition game all during the preseason. The actual season does not reflect this.

Ced finished with 16 points and 3 assists. He was 4-6 from 3, and it was his shooting plus the rebounding of Luc which were the keys to the Bruins' victory. Although Ced was credited with 4 turnovers himself, some of those were the fault of his big men and UCLA was definitely more in control of its offensive game with Ced at the point. Ced used his 6-6 height and experience to get passes over the hands of Albany's short guards and set the Bruins up for numerous good shots. The Bruins did make 48% of their shots for the game and 47.6% from 3. He should probably play point until Jordan returns and is 100%.

Luc hit a 3, made all 4 of his free throws and punished Albany with 13 points and 13 rebounds, definitely playing the best game of his young career so far. His ball handling skills helped the Bruins break down the Albany pressure when they started using their quick guards to slow the Bruins in the backcourt and then trap the ball as soon as it crossed half court. The Bruins made a few mistakes against the press, which Albany unleashed in the second half, but generally were able to break the pressure with ease when Ced moved to the point. However, they were so passive after breaking the press that they never took the ball to the basket despite often having a one or two man advantage every time they crossed half court. Luc also made some nice drives to the basket.

Mike Roll missed all his shots and only scored 1 point, but he probably played his best game of the season. Unlike the rest of his teammates, Mike beat the zone with the pass instead of the dribble. He registered 5 assists, but that doesn't measure how well he played in helping to energize the Bruin offense and contribute significantly to their relatively solid shooting percentage. His defense was decent. If he is going to start playing with this kind of poise, perhaps he will have earned more playing time.

The Bruin big men again failed to accomplish much. Lorenzo Mata started the game. He got 2 blocks and 2 rebounds and at least made an effort to box out and play physical defense against Albany's big, aggressive (if not very talented) frontline. He often presented himself as a wide open target inside with deep post position, but his teammates refused to pass him the ball even once. I assume they have no confidence in his ability to catch passes. Mike Fey certainly did nothing to inspire confidence, either, but his teammates tried to pass him the ball. He got 2 points, 2 rebounds and 1 block and did a truly terrible job of playing defense and blocking out on the defensive boards. Ryan Hollins was the most effective post player, with 7 points and 3 blocks, using his agility to foul 7-1 Kirsten Zoellner out of the game, but he got shoved around under the basket on defense and had only 1 rebound, which is not surprising, since he was often bodied 5-10 feet from the basket on almost every shot in the Albany half court offense.

Ryan Wright came in for 2 minutes and scored a basket on a beautiful turnaround jumper after establishing deep position the way you're supposed to. He fought hard on the glass and moved his feet well on defense. Is it my imagination or does Ryan have more talent than any of the other Bruin big men?

Little Jon Iati burned the Bruins for 23 points, going 6-10 from 3, and was usually able to shake his defender with ease, although for some reason the Bruins never tried to guard him with Darren Collison. Darren guarded Albany star Jamar Wilson and held him to 5 points and 12 overall, with Wilson going 3-12 from the field. Apparently, however, he was playing hurt and that probably contributed to his poor performance. The Great Danes' other top player, big Brett Wilson, finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds, but was unable to outplay freshman Luc. It's interesting that Albany shot only 36.1% from the field for the game, despite getting a plethora of wide open shots. Their second chance points, deadly foul shooting, Iati's 3s and streaks of organized offense kept them in the game, but as advertised this was a pretty wild, wide-open team on offense and it's unclear why the Bruins were unable to force more turnovers and get more breaks. The Great Danes shot poorly mainly because they took a lot of bad shots and not because of the Bruin defense (although Darren, Ced and Luc played good individual defense).

I'm not going to analyze this game very much. The Bruins struggled to beat a bad team, easily the worst team they've played all season (Coppin State is much worse than Albany, if that's any consolation). They turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and 17 times overall and just dribbled the ball too much to consistently break down Albany's zone defense. On defense, they made a mediocre effort helped by Albany's terrible shot selection. UCLA and Albany tied for rebounds with 36 apiece, a testimony to the inability of the Bruin big men to get to the ball very often. One wonders how UCLA will fare against teams like Nevada, Michigan, Stanford and Cal, who all have very good big men. The Bruins had 3 fast breaks all game against a team famous for turnovers and only forced 14 turnovers. That bespeaks either a lack of effort or a lack of direction. Lacking Jordan Farmar, it was probably both.

Reportedly, Alfred Aboya will make his Bruin debut against Coppin State on Sunday. In a month, he may be UCLA's starting center. But getting Jordan back to full health is the Bruins' main concern at this point.

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