Bruin fans have plenty of reasons to be excited about this game. UCLA came out and played intense defense from the opening tip. Ben Howland and his staff obviously made a point of motivating the team before the game, but I think the defense they designed to shut down Sac State's offense also contributed a lot to activating the Bruin defense. As we pointed out in our pre-game report, the Hornets take an unusually high percentage of 3s. And with their guard-dominated lineup, most of their attacks into the lane are initiated by their guards. In an almost inverse strategy of the Michigan game, the Bruin coaches had their players put extreme pressure on the ball at all times, but especially when it was in the hands of a Sac State player 22-25 feet from the basket. When the Hornets tried to set a high screen to free their ball handler, the Bruins didn't just switch on the screens; they actually used the opportunity to sometimes double-team the 3-point shooter, even with their post player. I'm not sure I've ever seen that in a game before, and while it was odd seeing Lorenzo Mata double-teaming a 5-10 guard 22 feet from the basket, the strategy paid off extremely well. Sac State missed its first 9 3-point attempts and didn't make one until there was only 2:43 left in the first half. They finished only 5-22 from 3 for the game. The Bruins also slowed the Hornets down by applying pressure on the ball from half court in. Howland definitely took the tack of slowing the game down, rather than risking his team getting into a wide open game with a team which gave Nevada a very tough time this year.
Like some of UCLA's earlier opponents (Coppin State, Albany, Wagner), Sac State lacked any real defensive presence in the post. But the Hornets compounded their weakness by constantly leaving only one defender on the baseline while running four defenders at the Bruins on the perimeter. Not surprisingly, this often left UCLA's post players either very lightly guarded or totally unguarded. Not surprisingly, the UCLA guards looked into their post players often and early in this game. In the first half, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute (8), Alfred Aboya (6), Lorenzo Mata (4) and Ryan Wright (4) scored 20 of UCLA's 42 points. Part of this came from good recognition by the Bruin guards that the pass inside was available, but I think the coaches had the guards think inside pass from the start of the game. Again, the staff had obviously done a great job of scouting and preparing for this game. I doubt UCLA will face any teams in the Pac-10 as weak in the interior as Sac State, but a game like this could give the Bruin big men confidence in their ability to catch the ball and score inside and also increase the confidence of the guards in their taller teammates.
The Bruins ran out to an 18-2 lead to start the game, shutting down Sac State's free-wheeling offense and getting great balance between scoring plays for the guards and the posts. "Ran out" might not be the right term to use: UCLA was playing a very controlled game, easily breaking the Hornets' efforts at ¾ and half-court pressure and then holding it up and running their offense. They only got caught up in a running game with Sac State for one ugly sequence, when Sac State came back and outscored the Bruins 10-2 as UCLA turned the ball over several times trying to play a transition game. Whenever the Bruins tried to hurry the ball down the floor, they inevitably turned it over. With UCLA up only 20-12 at the 11:49 mark, Howland corralled his players, got them back into a more disciplined game on the offensive end, resulting in a string of high percentage shots both inside and out and the Bruins quickly built up an 18-point lead before settling for a 42-28 score at the half.
In the second half, the Hornets' team leader, DaShawn Freeman, picked up his 3rd foul on the second play and the Sac State coaches decided to stop applying any kind of extended pressure d on the Bruins. UCLA was basically allowed to run its half court sets at will and started the half with a 9-0 run which pretty much ended the game with UCLA up by 23, 51-28. With UCLA continuing to play excellent defense, Sac State could get no closer than 20 points for the rest of the game. UCLA's ultimate dominance and disciplined offensive attack can be measured by the numbers: UCLA hit 67.3% of its FGs for the game (compared to 31.3% for Sac State). They also out rebounded the Hornets 43-25 and had 28 assists, easily a season high (and likely to remain so for the rest of the year).
Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo once again led the Bruin attack. Farmar had 15 points and 9 assists. He hit a couple of 3s, penetrated easily, and made a number of pinpoint passes (along with some forced plays as well, he had 5 turnovers). Afflalo scored in every conceivable way, hitting 3s, pulling up for the short J after beating his man with the dribble, taking it to the hole or sneaking around a pick for another short J. Afflalo did have a challenge matching up defensively with the talented Jason Harris, who led Sac State with 16 points. Afflalo also coughed the ball up 5 times, again when the Bruins were trying to run with the Hornets and force the action. Afflalo finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
Darren Collison didn't score, but he racked up 5 assists, did his part in breaking the Hornets' pressure and played excellent d, going for 21 minutes and contributing more than Farmar to the bad night for Freeman (just 7 points on 3-9 shooting). Oddly, all of Collison's assists came on in-bounds plays. The Bruins would just line everyone up at the FT line, send one of their guys around the wall to the hoop and Collison would hit him with the pass. I was wondering why Sac State didn't seem to figure out that play.
Mike Roll hit a 3 and added 2 FTs and 2 rebounds in one of his more productive efforts of late. He also played solid defense. Mike's real time with the Bruins will come in later years, but there will be a few games this season where he is able to step in and give the team a boost off the bench.
Cedric Bozeman had another off night offensively. The hole was there for the taking, but he attacked the rim only twice all night, finishing with 3 points. He did make a number of good passes (5 assists) and also contributed good defense. In Bozeman's defense, Howland used him to stay up top a lot and initiate the offense as the point guard by passing over the shorter Sac State guards. Farmar and Collison often played off the ball. In fact, Bozeman probably played more point in this game than at any time this year.
Up front, UCLA got 13 points and 11 rebounds from Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, 6 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks from Lorenzo Mata, 12 points and 2 rebounds from Alfred Aboya and 8 points from Ryan Wright. Mbah A Moute cut to the basket with relish to receive crisp passes from the guards on the offensive end and frequently stepped up to help his teammates cut off dribble penetration by the Hornets' guards at the defensive end. With his combination of height, length, athleticism, aggressiveness and instinct for following the ball off the shot at the defensive end of the floor, Mbah A Moute should continue to be one of the best rebounders in the Pac-10 this season and is a legitimate candidate for Pac-10 FOY, notwithstanding Jon Brockman's fast start at UDub.
Mata hit a sweet jump hook and also put back an offensive rebound. His confidence in his offense seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. He was very aggressive on the glass in this game and, while he still loses track of his man on defense at times, he has clearly proven that he can be a force blocking shots against penetrating guards. Aboya and Wright continue to show a very good combination of hands, strength and positioning at both ends; both players might well develop into consistent low post scorers for the Bruins. Both players must do a better job on the defensive glass. Aboya was very active on defense, knocking away some passes and filling the driving lanes. It will be interesting to see where both freshmen will be in a month. Until then, Howland will no doubt mainly count on his depth in the post for his double-team strategy against schools like Stanford and Cal. The Hornets' interior defense was so awful in this game, it's best not to get too excited about the performance of the Bruin big men Friday night. Matt Haryasz, Leon Powe, DeVon Hardin and Rod Benson will present a different magnitude of challenge next week.
Mike Fey played a few minutes and picked up 2 points and 3 rebounds in garbage time. It remains to be seen whether he is healthy and, if he is healthy, whether he can push the younger posts for playing time.
Ryan Hollins strained a groin muscle in warm-ups, so he didn't play. It will be interesting to see how much he plays for the rest of the season if Mata, Wright and Aboya continue their development and Fey gets healthy.
Howland left his starters in the game until very late, even with the big lead. I think he was doing it to pump up his team, both internally and to outsiders. He wanted a big margin of victory on the scoreboard heading into Pac-10 play and for RPI purposes.
So, the Bruins won 10 of their first 11 games playing without Josh Shipp and also having Aboya, Fey, Mata and Farmar all affected by injuries to a variety of degrees. They had a couple of big wins against Nevada and Michigan, pulled out a win against an underrated Wagner team and won the games they were supposed to win, although their intensity and focus was inconsistent for much of the preseason. Their only really non-competitive moment came in the first half against Memphis.
Now they get Josh Shipp back and everyone else appears healthy (except for Ryan Hollins). It's hard to get a read on the Pac-10. Except for Washington, the rest of the league had a real up and down preseason. And it's not really clear just how good the Huskies really are. So, the Pac-10 title could be up for grabs from among 3 or 4 teams. But we will also see USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington State beat some of the higher ranked teams. There could be a real division between the top 3 or 4 teams and the rest of the conference, or things could wind up a lot more balanced than anyone would've predicted at the start of the year. Even Arizona appears to still be a real work in progress at this stage of the season.
This will be my final article for BRO. I have taken a new job with incredible demands on my time and I now return to my former status as a UCLA Basketball fan. I'd like to thank Tracy for his help and support, and I'd like to thank the BRO readers for having patience with an old crackpot like me.