The Bruins started the 9 AM game like they were still asleep, making careless turnovers while Lorenzo Mata (starting because Ryan Wright was 3 minutes late to team dinner) seemed to be the focus of their offense. Not surprisingly, Michigan took an 8-0 lead in the first 6 minutes. Then Ben Howland put in Darren Collison and Ryan Wright and UCLA remembered that Arron Afflalo, rather than Mata, is their leading scorer. With Afflalo quickly knocking down 4 3-pointers (3 off assists from Collison) and UCLA double-teaming Courtney Sims and Graham Brown at every opportunity in the low post, throwing the UM offense off balance, the Bruins went on a 16-2 run to take a 16-10 lead. Jordan Farmar sat down, Collison made some bad decisions and Michigan came back with an 8-0 run of its own. Substitute Farmar back into the game: UCLA goes on an 8-0 run. The back-and-forth pace was dizzying and ended with Michigan going on a 9-0 run to finish the half with a 34-32 lead. That last Michigan run seemed ominous: The Wolverines' perimeter players, Horton, Harris and Abram, appeared to have adjusted to the constant double-teaming in the post and started using their quickness and strength to take the Bruins one-on-one in isolation plays and get into the lane for short jumpers and lay-ups. Michigan also got some transition buckets as the Bruins seemed to tire.
The Bruins often broke their own momentum in the first half by making some bad turnovers. Michigan is a strong defensive team and earned a few of those turnovers, but the Bruins were just trying to force too much to happen. Interestingly, the Bruins seemed to make an effort to get the ball inside to their post players. Perhaps Ben Howland just thought he could surprise Tommy Amaker, or perhaps he saw something on tape that convinced him Michigan was vulnerable inside. Ryan Wright did score 6 points in the first half. But most of UCLA's offense came from Afflalo (17 points) and Farmar (6 points), as expected. On defense, UCLA's double-team of Sims held him to 2 points and no field goals, but the Bruins had trouble matching up defensively with the quick, strong Michigan guards and wings, especially since UCLA's guards and wings were fading off their men to help out inside.
In the second half, Michigan maintained their strategy of letting their guards and wings take the Bruins off isolation plays and maintained a small lead for several minutes. The Bruins started out slowly in the second half, just as they had in the first half, but a 3 by Jordan Farmar seemed to wake the Bruins up. With Michigan leading 41-38, Farmar took over the offense the same way Afflalo had done in the first half and the Bruins went on another run, 8-0, to take a 49-41 lead. With Collison turning on the jets on offense, penetrating at will to hit floaters in the lane and draw fouls, and Jordan continuing to pour it on, UCLA took charge of the game between the 14 and 6 minute marks of the second half, building their lead to 63-51.
The game is played on both ends, of course, and UCLA continued to shut down the Michigan game inside through constant double-teaming. Sims, the Wolverine's stop scorer, didn't get his first (and only) field goal until there was only 4:29 left in the game. But during the time that UCLA took charge of the game, Michigan's guards also stopped driving into the lane and started jacking up a lot of 3s. They hit some of those shots, but they missed even more and their offense really slowed to a crawl. For the game, Michigan was only 5-23 from 3 and that was a huge factor in this game, as most of those shots were largely uncontested. Farmar, Bozeman and Mbah A Moute also forced some turnovers with their quick hands.
Michigan went on the final run of the game with about 5:50 left to go and the Wolverines trailing by 12. Over the next 3 minutes, they cut the Bruins' lead to 4 points. They did it off a combination of intense defensive pressure which often forced the Bruins into taking poor shots deep into the shot clock, and at the other end finally knocking down some 3s and also getting some offensive put-backs. Even the 6-11 Chris Hunter hit a 3 for Michigan in their comeback run. The Bruins seemed rattled by the full-court pressure defense; they also acted as if they were trying to run the clock out way too early in the game and just dribbled the ball too much and stopped moving and spacing the court.
Ben Howland ran out of time-outs with 2:20 left and UCLA leading 63-59. Jordan Farmar forced up a shot and Graham Brown grabbed the defensive rebound. Michigan seemed poised to continue their comeback. But Arron Afflalo stepped in front of Brown's outlet pass, stole it, dribbled toward Brown, drew the defender to him and then dished the ball to Luc Richard Mbah A Moute for a back-breaking lay up and 6-point Bruin lead with less than 2 minutes to go. Michigan came right back with a nice driving bucket from the versatile Hunter, but when the Bruins ran the clock down again and Luc Richard grabbed a key offensive rebound after a Farmar miss, Michigan seemed to give up. They fouled Farmar, who hit one of his FTs, then took a quick, wild shot at the other end which turned into a Ryan Wright transition dunk to seal the scoring, giving the Bruins their final margin of victory, 68-61.
Ultimately, this game turned on two crucial factors: UCLA had the better guards, and Michigan could not consistently figure out how to run an efficient offense in the face of Howland's strategy of double-teaming the ball whenever it got into the low post for Michigan. Sims, who averages 16.4 ppg, was held to 6 in this game, with just 1 field goal made and only 2 field goal attempts. The Wolverines' perimeter players were unable to make up the difference. In this regard, a real salute has to go out to Ryan Wright, Lorenzo Mata, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Alfred Aboya, who had the assignment of executing those double teams. Ryan Hollins and Mike Fey made token, ineffective appearances. Wright (8 points, 7 rebounds) and Mata (6 rebounds, 1 block) along with Mbah A Moute (4 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals) all played exceptional defense as part of the double-team units and Aboya provided a few physical minutes and caught a tough pass inside for a rare UCLA post score in the paint (2 points, 1 rebound).
Afflalo, as noted, scored 17 points in the first half and finished with 20 points. With Michigan shifting all their attention to Afflalo in the second half, Farmar scored 15 second half points to finish with 21 overall (with 5 rebounds and 3 steals, but just 1 assist and 4 turnovers) and Collison added those 7 points in the second half to go along with 5 assists for the game. Farmar nailed a trio of treys in the second half, further evidence that his jump shot is returning to form (although his free-throw shooting remains shaky). Overall, UCLA was 10-21 from 3 (47.6%), while their often poor shot selection resulted in a total FG% of 44.6%. When Afflalo, Farmar and Collison are all playing well, it is impossible for even a team with the backcourt talent of Michigan to hold the Bruins in check for long. Arizona seems to be the only team in the Pac-10 which stands a chance of shutting the UCLA backcourt down for an entire game.
Ced Bozeman had an on/off night (6 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 4 turnovers). He hit a key 3, made some very good passes and played some excellent defense. He also made some bad turnovers, played some bad defense and needed to be more assertive on offense when Michigan turned up its pressure at the end and both Farmar and Afflalo were clearly fatigued. In fact, Howland benched him for the final 2:20, going with Collison instead. The Bruins will need more production out of Bozeman at both ends of the floor as they head into the Pac-10. As Farmar, Afflalo and Collison become more assertive, Bozeman needs to make sure he doesn't get lost in the shuffle. He is the only senior on the team likely to play key minutes this season and his contributions will be vital to the team's success. A team like Washington will try to counter the Bruins' backcourt talent by wearing the Bruins down in a full throttle transition game. Bozeman must come to play (and score) in a game like that. Bozeman will also have to play well against Arizona and their tough backcourt.
Michigan was led by reserve Hunter's 15 points. Dion Harris had 14, Lester Abrams scored 12 and Daniel Horton added 10. Horton, especially, seemed bothered by having his favorite target inside, Sims, virtually eliminated as an option. He made some bad turnovers and forced up too many 3s even though he proved that he could seemingly drive on the Bruins at will by going one-on-one. Despite the turnovers and forced shots late in the game, the Bruins proved to be the more disciplined team, better prepared to execute the game plan handed to them by their coaches.
UCLA now has two more teams coming into Pauley Pavilion, Wagner and Sacramento State, before they open Pac-10 play. Hopefully, the Bruins will come out and play with intensity and Howland will get the opportunity to give Josh Shipp a few minutes in each game…