Bruins Beat OSU, But Worrisome

While UCLA played impressively in the second half of its win over Oregon State Thursday, and won 78-60, the UCLA team that we saw before it the second-half barrage it put on the Beavers is worrisome...

The UCLA Bruins, in unimpressive style, ran their overall record to 21-6 and their Pac-10 record to 11-4 with a 78-60 victory over the hapless Oregon State Beavers Thursday night.

The Beavs fell to 11-16 overall and 4-12 in conference.

This wasn't much of a game. Neither team would win any awards for their performance other than raspberries. By winning, UCLA maintained pace with Cal at the top of the Pac-10 standings, even if they don't appear to deserve the ranking. That race won't be determined until the two teams square off next Thursday night and possibly not until Saturday afternoon, when the Bruins take on the Cardinal of Stanford. And hopefully the first half of this game and the last two last two games which ended in Bruin losses aren't an indication of how UCLA will play in those games.

The Bruins jumped out to a quick 8-0 deficit, and never looked back. If they had looked back, they might've seen themselves gaining on them with their own fundamental flaws. It certainly wouldn't have been OSU gaining on them, as the Beavers simply lacked the personnel to keep up with UCLA over the course of the game. Eventually, UCLA's talent caught up with them and they won despite their valiant efforts to give the game away to a lesser team. OSU led 32-26 at halftime, withstanding a series of 8-0 runs from the Bruins with 8-0 runs of their own. OSU stymied UCLA throughout with a zone, which has become de rigueur against the Bruins at this stage of the season. It's worrisome that Ben Howland doesn't seem to have a more interesting response to a zone than what this team has shown. Howland also, inexplicably, started Michael Fey and then, after producing a blocked shot and a free throw in the first two minutes, Fey apparently earned a prolonged spot on the bench. Another inexplicable move: the Bruins doubled Sasha Cuic in the first half, and this worked out quite splendidly – for Nick DeWitz, as he torched the Bruins for 11 points, and Jason Fontenot ran wild in the open floor for 7 in the first half.

In the second half, Oregon State's Head Coach Jay John then made some inexplicable moves himself – abandoning his zone, and UCLA turned on the faucets, pouring in five three-pointers on its first six possessions, plus an old-fashioned 3-point play with a made basket and free throw. All of that activity earned them a 45-41 deficit, as their defense remained porous. OSU immediately returned to the zone. With 14 minutes left in the second half, Darren Collison and Mike Roll entered the game and the Bruins started playing serious defense for the first time in the game. With Ryan Hollins, Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute handling the other spots, the Bruins outscored Oregon State 26-4 over a seven-minute span and the game was effectively over, 67-49. This was one of the few games this season where the Bruins have started out slow and then blown out an opponent. DC's playmaking, Mike Roll's excellent d and complimentary play, AA's shooting, Luc's rebounding and passing and Hollins' defense, rebounding and power dunks inside drove the Bruins on their onslaught. If the Bruins can play this way the rest of the season, they might not lose until late in the NCAA Tournament. The problem is, this team is inconsistent in its effort on both ends of the floor at this point in the season.

Once again, UCLA was led statistically by its starting guards. Jordan Farmar had 21 points and 4 assists (my stats), including 4 threes in the second half, and Arron Afflalo wound up with 20 points, including 3 threes of his own in the second half. But Darren Collison's 9 points and 3 assists were perhaps more significant, as they came during the crucial time when UCLA's defense matched its offense. This was DC's best game of his young career at UCLA and it will be hard to keep this young man on the bench if he is going to play at both ends like this from here on out. He did an expert, poised job of dissecting the Oregon State zone defense. Mike Roll failed to score, but he grabbed 2 rebounds when it counted and moved the ball against the OSU zone in the second half in a manner which enabled UCLA to get numerous open looks. He also played solid defense on Marcel Jones while DC limited Fontenot to 1-4 from the field during their match up. Arron Afflalo gave up as much to Chris Stephens as he got, but he can't play great defense every time out.

Prince Luc finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. His assists all came out of the high post offense against the OSU zone; apparently, we won't see any more overloads. Luc also played excellent d against Cuic throughout the game, serving as the primary defender on the double teams which dogged the big Serb throughout the game and held him to 6 points after he scored 24 the last time these two teams played. Ryan Hollins got 2 lob jams as the OSU zone shifted ineffectually against crisp penetration by DC and crisp passing by MR, AA and LR, and added 5 rebounds and a block. He also only made 2 turnovers, which must be counted an accomplishment, and he defended DeWitz well one-on-one through most of the second half and has probably earned his starting job back Alfred Aboya, playing despite a hip flexor, got 5 points and 6 rebounds and played good defense for the first time this season. Ryan Wright added 4 points against the zone and Mike Fey had his 1 point, 1 rebound and 1 block in his second best performance of the season. Ced Bozeman quietly registered 5 points, 4 rebounds and solid defense all game long.

Let's give credit where credit is due: UCLA outscored OSU 52-30 in the second half, which is quite a pasting. It almost makes us forget the first half debacle. Almost, but not quite. If the Bruins truly want to be a top 25 team, they have to take teams like OSU and beat them in the first half. They will certainly have to perform better in the opening minutes if they want to beat Oregon on Saturday, and even more so against Cal next Thursday and Stanford next Saturday. Like it or not, this is the most important part of the regular season. UCLA isn't playing Memphis or West Virginia, but consecutive wins over the likes of OSU and Oregon will go further with the NCAA Selection Committee than the early season losses. The Selection Committee likes to see teams finish the season strong, and this is the Bruins' opportunity. Oregon is next in line. Stay tuned.

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