Bruins Better Against Humboldt State

UCLA beat Humboldt State, 87-61, Thursday in an exhibition game, and while the Bruins made some improvements from last week's exhibition against Pomona, there still are some considerable concerns, in particular: What happens when UCLA faces a good big man?

UCLA played better in beating a good D-II school in Humboldt State, 87-61, but there is still plenty to be concerned about.

The Bruins took better care of the ball than they did against Pomona a week ago, committing 15 turnovers, which was an objective of Head Coach Ben Howland.

They shot the ball well, shooting almost 54% from the field, and 52% from three.

Josh Shipp scored 21 to lead the Bruins, shooting 7-for-8 from the field and 3-for-4 from three. Arron Afflalo kept pace, scoring 18, shooting 6-for-11 from the field and 3-for-6 from three. He hit all three of his three-pointers in the first half, which fueled UCLA surge to its comfortable double-digit lead for most of the first 20 minutes.

Freshman guard Russell Westbrook looked particularly good, leading a second-half surge that gave UCLA a comfortable 20+ lead. Against Pomona, Westbrook had just come off a few days of not practicing due to a concussion, so he was more prepared against Humboldt State. In the second half, he scored nicely on a break, had a very nice pull-up, executed a great hesitation move in the half-court, hit a three-pointer with confidence and then hit another 15-foot pull-up, scoring all of his 11 points in the span of just a few minutes. He also played good on-ball defense. His little flurry and solid defense really gives you confidence that he'll be able to handle the 10-15 minutes of back-up point guard per game. He still isn't really strong on his dribble, but he made only one errant pass, compared to a few ill-advised ones against Pomona.

After those positives, there are many concerns.

Clearly the biggest concern is in the post. HSU's center, 6-9, 255-pound Cy Vandermeer, gave UCLA a hard time. With Alfred Aboya picking up two fouls in the first half, the post responsibilities were mostly left to Ryan Wright, and Vandermeer had his way with him in the first half, with the D-II center scoring 9 points. Vandermeer would back in to the paint pretty easily, catch the ball and use his body to get space enough in front of Wright to score. UCLA was noticeably not doubling the post much like it did last week against Pomona, and was known to do, and very effectively, last season. When Aboya played more minutes in the second half, the defense on Vandermeer improved, but he still was able to do some damage.

It's pretty clear that if UCLA is planning on doing any damage itself this season it needs a healthy Lorenzo Mata.

While Shipp and Afflalo scored 21 and 18, there were concerns. Afflalo, for the second straight game, committed five turnovers, mostly trying too hard to drive to the basket. Shipp also had a couple of forced drives, going into traffic without any real seam, trying to force a foul call, presumably.

Again, like we said last week after the Pomona game, UCLA will desperately need Shipp and Afflalo to play unselfishly if it's going to compete at the elite level in college basketball this season. They are extremely effective when they're doing that, and playing within their limitations, rather than forcing plays that they're not capable of.

The overall defense wasn't stellar. As we said above, the interior defense was allowing Vandermeer to score down low, probably also as a result of Howland conceding it and doubling the post, rather than allowing HSU's big scorer, Kevin Johnson to get off. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute mostly had the assignment of guarding Johnson, and he did just an okay job, with Johnson probably matching Mbah a Moute in terms of size and quickness. It's easy to see why Johnson exploits D-II competition. But again, the help defense against HSU wasn't what it needs to be; too many slow switches, and defenders a step slow in rotating over allowed a fairly patient HSU to get some good open looks after a few passes. UCLA's quickness did force HSU into 18 turnovers, but it should; this is a top 10 national team playing against a D-II team.

A few other observations of some fairly positive aspects:

In the last two games when Pomona or HSU went to a zone, UCLA didn't look as baffled as it traditionally has, and almost looked like it relishes it, with the shooters it has. HSU went into a zone in the second half and, when UCLA hit a couple of easy outside shots, quickly abandoned it. The combo of UCLA's good outside shooting and interior passing, particularly from Mbah a Moute and Aboya, should be formidable enough for most opponents this season to use a zone sparingly.

Mike Roll played solidly, getting 10 points in 23 minutes, hitting three of four threes almost effortless. He's the critical third outside shooter that most good outside-shooting teams need.

Darren Collison was also solid, but not spectacular. He still appears to be keeping his one-on-one skills under wraps, opting a number of times to not take his defender at good opportunities but to give up the ball. You have to applaud his effort to be more of a ball-sharer, but UCLA is going to need scoring from Collison, too. He scored just five points against HSU and 7 against Pomona. He did have 6 assists against just two turnovers Thursday.

Again, like we said last week, probably UCLA's best offensive mis-match is Mbah a Moute catching the ball at the top of the key. There just aren't many power forwards who are going to be able to hang with him as he drives to the basket from there.

And one more note of concern: Where is UCLA is going to get scoring from besides Shipp and Afflalo? In UCLA's two exhibition games Afflalo and Shipp have scored 45% of the points. UCLA becomes very defensible this way: Shut down Afflalo and Shipp and you shut down UCLA's offense. Last season, UCLA made the run it did because it found scoring from Ryan Hollins inside and opportune baskets from Cedric Bozeman down the stretch, as well as 9 points a game from Mbah a Moute. This season, it might be too much to expect to get too much scoring punch out of the post spot, even with Mata back, so UCLA will need around double figures from both Mbah a Moute and Collison consistently. It especially needs the threat of Collison penetrating, or UCLA becomes a very outside-shooting-oriented team, as it was at the beginning of last season. The HSU exhibition, honestly, wasn't a big step forward for this UCLA team, making you a bit wary of the impending season-opener next Wednesday against BYU, which features 6-11, 245-pound Trent Plaisted.

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