The Bruins trounced Michigan, 92-55, Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, and it was exactly the kind of blow-out game that all UCLA fans were craving against the mid-majors teams UCLA has been facing.
Michigan, it just so happened, was that game.
After watching UCLA play with low intensity against Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Oakland, and Sam Houston State, the Bruins finally brought the high-major intensity against Michigan. And wouldn't you know – they didn't need it.
In fact, Michigan was one of the poorest teams among the mid-majors UCLA has faced. Yes, UCLA didn't bring the same kind of intensity to the other games, but Oakland or Sam Houston State played much better defense against UCLA than did the Wolverines.
Now, this isn't intended to diminish UCLA's accomplishment – of blowing out an 11-1, Big Ten conference team by 37 points. UCLA played very well; altogether, it was probably UCLA's most complete game of the season.
So, that combination – of UCLA playing exceptionally well and Michigan not even coming close to putting up the resistance of, say, UC Riverside – gave you what you saw at Pauley Pavilion.
It's the holidays and everyone is filled with good cheer, so instead of dwelling on how poor Michigan was, let's just ignore that aspect of this game and focus on how good UCLA was.
You could see UCLA was playing with a different intensity in just the first couple of possessions of the game. Heck, you could have expected it just from the different level of electricity in Pauley Pavilion before the game. Either way, this was a UCLA team that didn't look bored like it had in its mid-major non-conference schedule.
Like always, it starts with UCLA's defense, and the Bruins played well defensively throughout the first half to establish the tone and tempo. Michigan, commonly, ran the shot clock down deep, and then most of the time didn't get a single good look in a possession and was relegated to taking a bad shot. If not for some solid offensive rebounding and, again, some lucky bounces of the ball, Michigan would have found itself down by considerably more than the 36-23 margin at halftime. UCLA's on-ball pressure was great, and not only by Darren Collison but by the entire team, and particularly Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The Prince had two steals in the first two Michigan possessions, his first two of a stupendous seven on the night. The Bruins were also doing it defensively with great doubling in the post. As Head Coach Ben Howland said in his post-game comments, the Bruins are even better at doubling the post this season than last. Michigan's center, Courtney Sims, struggled when two Bruins collapsed on him, and the Wolverines were turning the ball over consistently. They had to set a record for the amount of over-the-top passes that sailed out of bounds because of pressure and desperation.
If you're a basketball purist, watching UCLA defend Michigan today was a work of art.
With the defense turned up, UCLA had built a 10-12 point lead at the 10-minute mark of the first half. They then went on a defensive run where they shut down Michigan on many successive possessions, and created a chance to get the lead into the 18-to-20-point range and probably put the game away right there. But the Bruins couldn't manage it, unable to convert on four successive possessions themselves. In a game where UCLA didn't have much to criticize, this stretch in the first half from about the 9-minute mark to 4-minute mark when UCLA struggled offensively was probably the worst aspect of the game for the Bruins. Michigan moved between man and a zone, and picked up their intensity on defense, shadowing UCLA's shooters and not allowing anything inside.
But it didn't last long. Mike Roll, when he's on, can be devastating, and he was on. He hit a 3-pointer from 21 feet at the 6:30 mark to put UCLA up by 14. With the shot clock winding down, Darren Collison took his man off the dribble for a lay-in at 4:00 to maintain a 12-point lead. And UCLA's offense, which was de-railed for a few minutes, was back on track.
Michigan's slight amount of resistance in the last ten minutes of the first half were just about its last whimper. The landslide began with the beginning of the second half. UCLA went on a 6-0 run in the first two minutes to go up by 19, and Michigan's Tommy Amaker called a timeout to try to stop the bleeding. But Michigan's wounds were huge, and the Bruins kept plunging the knife. By the 12-minute mark, UCLA was up 62-34, and it had happened so fast. With about five minutes left, the score was 85-45, with the Bruins having completed a 49-22 run in the second half.
As I said, it happened so fast that it was almost difficult to assess how it happened.
Throughout it all, UCLA's defense was the dominant force in the game. But UCLA's offense then matched it for effectiveness, with the Bruins getting easy points in transition and, like it had in the first few games of the season, it got easy baskets in its half-court offense.
Lorenzo Mata threw down a couple of dunks off alley-oops, Josh Shipp had a few easy lay-ins from good interior passes, Mbah a Moute converted around the basket, Afflalo made a few easy fall-aways and UCLA got the interior scoring it needed to enhance its usual outside scoring. And the outside scoring was definitely there, with the Bruins hitting 11 of 20 from three, with Afflalo getting three of four and Roll two of four. Michigan, once it got demoralized, stopped pushing through screens, which is death if you're facing UCLA's double staggers. Afflalo missed one three because he looked like he was too wide open and had too much time.
Collison was spectacular. He finished with 15 points and 8 assists against just two turnovers. He threw alley-oops, back-doors, took his defender off the dribble and pressured Michigan point guard Dion Harris into complete uselessness, Harris going one-for-six from the field and 0-for-4 from three while committing 3 turnovers, finishing with 2 points. On that one play with the shot clock ticking down and Collison merely taking Harris off the dribble and scoring, it makes you wonder if Collison could simply do it on every possession. He had one great catch of an over-the-shoulder pass on a break that made you think he could contribute to the football team as a wide receiver.
Shipp and Afflalo had their requisite couple of forced drives, but it appears they're becoming less and less frequent. Both played well on the day, giving up the ball to a teammate for a better look a number of times. Shipp finished with a game-high 18 points and Afflalo had 17.
Mbah a Moute, after having a few non-descript games recently, was very noticeable in this one. He only had 2 rebounds (which doesn't seem accurate, actually), but had 13 points, shooting the ball well, hitting a few mid-ranges and one three-pointer. He was critical in the post double-teams, and got his seven steals by quick hands and jumping passing lanes. His steals were the catalyst to UCLA's big second-half run.
Roll had eight points, those two big three-pointers, and three very nice assists.
James Keefe showed some nice flashes, scoring 4 points, hitting his first real three-pointer (we just can't count the one he banked in against Sam Houston State), and getting five nice rebounds where he went up high against Michigan's athletes.
Ryan Wright struggled catching the ball, having a number of opportunities where he had the ball in his hands under the basket but fumbled it.
As a team, UCLA forced 23 turnovers, mostly resulting from great ball pressure and the doubles, while the Bruins committed just 13 turnovers. UCLA was out-rebounded in the first half, 14-9, but won the battle of the boards for the game, 28-24. A few offensive rebounds, from Alfred Aboya and Mbah a Moute, were big ones in the second half, giving UCLA a second chance on the offensive end a few times that seemed to break the back of the Wolverines.
It was a great day to be at Pauley Pavilion. The #1-ranked Bruins played very well, blowing out a team that was 11-1 in front of an energized crowd, on national television. It was a great showcase for the UCLA program, really illustrating how well coached UCLA is under Ben Howland for a national audience.
It was a day when the #1 Bruins really looked like they were #1. And it was a good sign heading into what looks to be a tough run of games in the Pac-10 that UCLA, when it needs to, can play with the intensity of a #1 team.