UCLA Wins; Don't Use the "U" Word

UCLA beat Indiana Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, 54-49, and many national commentators are picking up where they left off in last year's NCAA Tournament, calling it "ugly" ball. The teams missed shots, yes, but playing good defense, making good decisions and not turning over the ball isn't ugly...

With UCLA beating Indiana in the second round of the NCAA tournament, 54-49, many are calling it an ugly game.

Man, there are many people out there watching basketball who don't know basketball.

That was not an ugly game.

Ugly games are riddled with turnovers, bad shot selection, and bad decisions.

UCLA committed only 10 turnovers, while Indiana had 12. UCLA played one of the smartest games I've watched in the NCAA tournament. There were probably only a couple of decisions you could consider bad – James Keefe stepping over the endline as he's inbounding the ball, and Alfred Aboya fouling Lance Stemler from three with a little over a minute left in the game and the Bruins up by just four points, which really gave the Hoosiers a breath of life but also killed Aboya, it being his fifth foul.

But that's only two "ugly" plays in 40 minutes. The rest of the game consisted of some pretty well-played basketball, by both teams: Excellent defense, good execution on offense, good coaching and good decision-making.

It really is a device, a divining rod, if you will, you can use to separate the people who know basketball from those who don't. Don't say anything about the game and let an individual speak. If he calls the game ugly, don't listen to his opinion about basketball ever again.

The biggest example of someone talking about the game, calling it ugly, who doesn't know basketball: Steve Lavin on ESPN. He wouldn't recognize good, well-played basketball if it bit him on the ass. Just to jolt some memories, if you can handle it, if you ever get a chance and see an old UCLA Lavin game on one of the cable channels – that's "ugly" basketball. Playing no defense, executing no offense, jacking up shots, and playing with very little inspiration – that's ugly. Losing to Stanford 109-61 epitomizes ugly. The fact that Lavin is the guy leading the charge of calling the UCLA/Indiana game "ugly" says it all.

I can't believe that basketball fans are all so stupid that just because two teams miss too many shots the game is labeled ugly. You mean, that run-and-gun style that Arizona and Washington plays, with all the turnovers and bad decisions – and losses – that's "pretty" basketball? I guess there are so few people out there that know basketball today, that are so brain-washed by the And-1, one-on-one crap, that it's now getting to a point where no one can even recognize good basketball. When ESPN's Ries Davis says that the UCLA/Indiana game just "set back basketball 20 years" he's embarrassingly setting back his reputation light years.

If you happened to watch the Washington State/Vanderbilt game before the UCLA/Indiana game, you could easily make a case that that game was uglier. No one will ever label it ugly, since it was so entertaining, with the two overtimes. But the turnovers late in the game, the horrible decisions, the giving-away of the game – that's ugly. The total of 36 turnovers. Taylor Rochestie's decision-making. That's like looking at Roseanne Barr in a bikini compared to Jessica Alba.

It's really come down to this? Just because one half of a game is so low-scoring, because the teams are missing their shots, it's called ugly? UCLA and Indiana missed easy shots and lay-ups in the first half. I can't believe that, just because both teams have a half where they happen to miss shots, the game and teams are dismissed as ugly.

UCLA, in that first half, missed some pretty easy lay-ups, not due entirely to Indiana's defense. If UCLA, say, makes a few of those lay-ups and hits two of those open threes it missed in that half, the score is 32-13 at half, and there is no talk of ugliness, just the fact that UCLA is putting on a clinic. So, really, what constitutes ugly to all of these so-called basketball pundits is the mere fact that UCLA happened to miss some easy shots.

Wow.

Rick Majerus – you should be ashamed of yourself. Look what you're doing, Rick. You're agreeing with Lavin. Sitting on one of Majerus' shoulders is his old friend, Ben Howland, talking about good basketball, and on the other shoulder is the Devil, Lavin, rambling and babbling, with his tan and his money, and it's obvious Majerus has sold his basketball soul.

And it really is just about one half of the game. The issue is entirely with the first half. UCLA scored 34 points and Indiana 36 points in the second half. UCLA shot 47% in the second half, and Indiana 50%.

So, it's labeled an ugly game, not only because the teams missed their shots, but only did it for a half?

Wow.

If you know anything about basketball, you'd view that first half as good, well-played basketball, except for the missed easy shots. Both teams didn't make a great deal of mistakes, and were playing excellent team, man-to-man defense. Both teams got back on defense and limited the other teams to very little transition opportunities (I guess if both teams don't get back on defense and allow the other teams easy baskets on breaks that's considered pretty basketball).

Arron Afflalo finished with just 10 points, on 2-of-11 shooting, missing every jump shot he attempted. He looked tight shooting the ball, with the ball hitting the rim like it was made of lead. But Afflalo was critical in winning this game, down the stretch taking the ball to the basket to draw two critical fouls, and making his free throws, to offset Indiana's last-game run.

You wondered for most of the game just when Indiana's run was going to happen. They didn't score more than two consecutive baskets all game. If they out-scored UCLA 4-0 it was considered a run. Until the Hoosiers went on a legit, 10-0 run to cut the lead to 46-43 with 2:38 left in the game. UCLA had been playing great defense, switching well when Indiana rotated the ball, but in this stretch toward the end of the game, Indiana got, really, its first consistently good looks of the game, and they knocked down the shots. Indiana's run really wasn't a result of anything they did so much better, but UCLA's late-game defensive lapses, which looked like they came because of fatigue.

Perhaps if Howland played Russell Westbrook a bit more Darren Collison would be a great deal fresher in crunch time. Westbrook had four points in just three minutes of the first half, and was credited for one minute of playing time in the second half, even though it was closer to about 20 seconds. If you want to talk "pretty," he had one of the best highlights of the NCAA tournament so far, when he threw down a dunk on a break over Indy's Roderick Wilmont. He was the only one going strong to basket in the first half, with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya obviously intimidated by the inside presence of IU's D.J. White. Not only can Westbrook give Collison a blow, when Collison isn't playing well (like in the first half), Westbrook can be an enormous asset. UCLA's effectiveness on defense is based so much on its ability to apply great ball pressure and be quick to switch on the perimeter, and the fact that Collison was visibly tired at the end of the game and a step slow defensively almost cost Howland the game.

It's a bit amazing that the stat sheet shows that UCLA tied Indiana in rebounding, both with 38. It seemed that Indiana won the battle of the boards, especially on their offensive end, getting second chances often. There haven't been too many instances in the last couple of years when Lorenzo Mata could have a rebound snatched from him when he has position, but White, with his long arms, consistently did. Mata did, however, play very well for the game. He showed some ice in his veins, making a nice, turn-around left-handed jump hook when UCLA needed a basket desperately, and no outside shooters could hit a shot.

White, really, was the difference-maker on the floor. He altered the game, mostly by intimidated UCLA's offense and getting those 14 rebounds, and also keeping rebounds alive on the offensive end, helping Indiana get 13 offensive rebounds. Without White, Indiana doesn't stay close to UCLA in this game.

Collison had a better second half, and led all scorers with 15 points, getting 12 of those in the second half. Again, Collison doesn't seem to aggressively attack on offense until the second half, when he feels more urgency. Someone needs to hypnotize him into believing that the first half is the second half.

Mbah a Moute showed up on the boards, finishing with 12. It was truly a very "pretty" thing, to watch UCLA, led by Mbah a Moute, battle against Indiana's rebounders. Mbah a Moute, by my count, however, missed three lay-ups, two in the first half, that are baskets he should make. It's been an issue all season for Mbah a Moute, finishing around the basket.

So, UCLA moves on to the Sweet 16, and it feels very much like last season, with the ESPN commentators falling all over themselves to criticize UCLA's style of play. Even if you concede that they could call this game "ugly," UCLA hasn't played "ugly" all season, so to pick up with the same droning we heard during last year's run to the Final Four is, well, also poor work on their part. And don't expect it to get any better, when UCLA will play in its ultimate Howland-Ball game when it faces Pittsburgh next Thursday.

But be content to know, while the other know-nothings drone on with their "ugly" sound bites, that the UCLA style of play is real, pure basketball, and it's beautiful.


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