UCLA is Intense with Stanford

The Bruins blew out to an 18-1 lead, got into foul trouble, lost Jordan Farmar to injury, but maintained their roughly 20-point lead on the Cardinal the rest of the way to win, 71-54, due mostly to a sustained intensity on defense...

UCLA played impressively Thursday night, putting away a struggline Stanford team early and then cruising to a 71-54 win.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the game was that UCLA held on to its lead after some extenuating circumstances. UCLA's three seniors – Cedric Bozeman, Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey – were all on the bench with various injuries. Jordan Farmar had early foul trouble and then twisted his ankle early in the second half and never returned, playing a total of only 14 minutes. Arron Afflalo, after scoring 18 points in the first half, got into foul trouble and played just 13 minutes in the second half. Despite all of this, UCLA sustained its roughly 20-point lead for almost the entire second half.

The second most impressive aspect of the game was UCLA's defensive intensity. The Bruins played excellent defense for the first 10 minutes or so, forcing Stanford to miss its first 12 shots and commit seven quick turnovers. UCLA went up 18-1 and it was just a matter of waiting for UCLA's defensive letdown sometime in the game which would enable Stanford to make a run and get back in it. But it never happened. UCLA sustained its defensive effort throughout the game and it was entirely the key to the victory. With about seven minutes to go in the first half, Stanford cut the lead to 23-10 and had possession of the ball. But UCLA's defense stepped up over the next couple of minutes, forced Stanford into a turnover and a bad possession, got a few easy baskets in transition created by its defense and the lead ballooned back up to 20. That 13-point deficit was the closest Stanford would get the rest of the way.

The most encouraging trend in the program is the dedication to defense and intensity that we've seen recently. In both this game and the Sacramento State game, UCLA played tough defense and sustained it with good intensity for a majority of the game. UCLA has had some defensive letdowns this season here and there, but overall, it's vastly improved from a season ago and from the last several years.

And defense, again, is what makes it all happen. UCLA's half-court offense struggled somewhat in this game, without the availability of Farmar for most of the game and Afflalo for good chunks of it. But UCLA put enough points on the board, getting quite a few in transition keyed by good defense. UCLA is not only playing good, sound, Ben-Howland-style defense, but with improved team quickness overall it's now stepping into passing lanes and getting steals. UCLA had six steals on the night, and five of those in the first half.

Josh Shipp made his return to the court, scoring 11 points and getting four rebounds in 29 minutes. He generally played very well for his first time back, calmly hitting a couple of key three pointers and making a couple of very nice passes. He does, though, look physically limited, both a bit out of shape and without the athleticism and lift he had last summer before his hip injury. With Bozeman's fate this season in doubt, whether Shipp does return close to the form he had before the injury could be a big factor in the extent of UCLA's success this season.

Darren Collison, filling in for Farmar, played a season-high 31 minutes, getting four points and 8 assists, but five turnovers, in a mixed game for him. Collison, if you remember, at the beginning of the season, looked tentative – as if he was just discovering his way in college basketball and learning just how good he is and what he can do. But when Collison got confident toward the end of the non-conference schedule he was really a difference maker, his quickness being something that opponents couldn't match up with on either end of the court. Last night, in his first conference game, he looked a bit tentative again, as if went back to feeling out just what he can do now that conference play has begun. Hopefully he'll gain back the confidence he did toward the end of the non-conference games. He did, though, play pretty good defense, his quickness enabling him to stay with the much stronger Chris Hernandez, and actually intimidate Stanford's freshman point guard, Mitch Johnson.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had a very good game, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds, against a much taller Stanford team. He made a couple of very nice jumpshots, with an easy stroke, which is particularly encouraging. If he's made this much advancement with his jumpshot in just 12 games, where is he going to be by next season? He also played excellent defense, often times shutting down Haryasz when he was guarding him. Offensively, off the dribble, when Mbah a Moute has a bigger defender guarding him, he's just too quick. In this one, he went around Haryasz on a baseline drive that made the potential All-American look like he was in slow motion.

UCLA's other young posts played well collectively. They held Haryasz to just 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting. They have uncannily picked up how to double the post extremely well. The athleticism of Lorenzo Mata, Ryan Wright, Alfred Aboya and Mbah a Moute has really lended itself to it. But it's also been their strength. All four look very strong physically defending the post, and don't get pushed out very easily. Ryan Wright is making advancements in just about every game, in this game making a 17-footer from straight away, getting some key rebounds and a block while forcing some steals with his defense. Mata played with foul trouble for most of the game, but looked very good in his 15 minutes, getting three blocks, playing good post defense and looking increasingly comfortable scoring from the low block. Aboya, still just getting his feet wet, shows some incredible potential. Defensively, he's so strong but also quick, looking very fleet of foot to recover from a hedge and get back in time to get position to take a charge on Hernandez in one defensive sequence. He's also starting to show his passing ability, making a great bounce pass down low from the top of the key to Wright. Wright didn't finish it, and actually, the young posts had a few baskets they failed to finish, but the fact that the UCLA offense is getting them easy looks is a very good sign.

The youth issue is still a bit astonishing. With this UCLA team, while they're beating Stanford by 20, you repeatedly look out on the court and often see two sophomores and three freshmen, or even four freshmen. It's very impressive that UCLA is able to be so effective while playing so many inexperienced players. This has to be one of the few best freshmen classes in the country.

While both Afflalo and Farmar were limited somewhat in this game by foul trouble and injury, they did set the tone defensively early on that the team carried throughout the game. Jordan Farmar, in the limited minutes he played in the first half, perhaps played the best defense of his UCLA career. He was every bit the match for Hernandez.

The issue, though, again, is injuries. We've heard from a source close to the situation that Jordan Farmar's ankle injury isn't considered serious and it's expected he'll play on Saturday. More than likely Bozeman is out for about a month. Hopefully Fey will return quickly to give UCLA more help in the post. With more playing time you hope that Josh Shipp will round into form.

Given all the injuries, it's very impressive that UCLA is 11-1. Howland has not only done an excellent job of managing the personnel, while also getting the team to buy in to the defensive philosophy and expanding the offense as the season has progressed. And very simply, while other highly-ranked teams are running and gunning, and playing poor team defense, UCLA looks like one of the most well-coached and disciplined teams in the country.

Updated News on Bozeman:

The news this morning is that Cedric Bozeman is being advised that he can play if he can manage the pain.

There are many instances where players do play with this kind of injury.

But he also knows there is a significant risk of the cartilage tear increasing.

He's destined to have surgery, it's just a matter of whether he has it now, during the season, or after.

If UCLA believes Bozeman can get a sixth year, they could opt to have him have the surgery now. But I've heard that Bozeman's initial feeling is that he wants to play this season.

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