UCLA Gets in Some Work, 111-61

Azusa Pacific was good enough to provide a bit of resistance so UCLA could get in some constructive work Friday night in the season's first exhibition game. The offense is different, and the Bruins looked winded. The big issue is Darren Collison's potential injury...

Remember the days when, in the back of your mind, you were worried UCLA could be embarrassed and lose an exhibition game?

That doesn't happen, with Ben Howland coaching against Azusa Pacific like it's the Final Four. UCLA beat the Cougars, 111-61.

This exhibition game was different, also, than in the Dark Age since there were 8,211 fans in Pauley, which is what UCLA drew for Pac-10 games during those times.

Even though it was an exhibition, it actually is not difficult to get some take-aways from this game, since Azusa Pacific was decent enough to provide the Bruins a measure of resistance.

Hopefully what we don't take away from the game is a serious injury to Darren Collison. He'll have an MRI on his left knee Saturday (are there no 24-hour, drive-thru MRI centers?), after hearing a pop in it very early on in the game. The good news is that there wasn't swelling, which usually accompanies a meniscus tear. Howland, in his post game interview, said a meniscus could mean 4 to 6 weeks.

So, with that cloud hanging over every Bruin household today, we'll provide a quick look at the take-aways just to keep your mind off it.

Russell Westbrook started. Howland said it wasn't set it stone, but it's clear that the defensive-minded coach went with defense instead of offense, which would be Mike Roll. Again, everyone is going to get minutes anyway.

The team's style has shifted a bit. With Kevin Love under the basket, UCLA is looking to get its post player a touch often. Except for the high ball screen, the offense looked considerably tweaked, with many more post feeds, especially coming off inside screens, and a whole new game of away screens to open up the weakside slasher or shooter. It created many very good opportunities inside Friday, not just scoring opportunities in the block, but passing opportunities, with Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute finding teammates under the basket with nice bounce passes after good movement. While UCLA is still hunting the outside shot, which has sustained the program since Howland has been here, the new inside game gives the offense so many more options. And it didn't change when Lorenzo Mata-Real was in the game.

In years past, UCLA under Howland has looked a little hesitant in its half-court offense, especially early on in the season, but last night, the half-court offense was the star. It's hard to remember a game when UCLA so easily scored over 100 points, even in an exhibition game. Certainly not in Howland's tenure.

If Howland isn't careful, he might lose the reputation as a defensive guru and be branded a high-scoring coach.

The Bruins tried to run, and did so successfully at times, particularly during a stretch late in the first half when they ballooned the lead to over 20 points initially. Josh Shipp was the recipient of some outlet passes that came off turnovers that resulted in three dunks (every time he goes up for a dunk and comes down a bit awkwardly you have to be thinking about his hips). They were sloppy, however, in their transition, at times, playing pretty loosely with the ball.

The defense wasn't great. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great. There were many missed assignments, especially coming off hedges, which allowed APU shooters too much space. Love wasn't spectacular in his post D. But we remember saying this last year, too, about UCLA's defense in the exhibition games. I would expect UCLA's defense to be particularly better in the exhibition game against Chico State Monday night.

UCLA's doubling of the post is devastating. They do it so well, and are able to trap their opponent in the corner and force him into a turnover so effectively. With Love still learning how to play post D, you can probably expect UCLA to double the opponent's post player just about every time he touches the ball in the block. The key is the rotation away from the trap, and last night UCLA did it well.

The Bruins looked fairly winded. It could be a matter of it being the first game and they were too hyped up initially, which leads to a big letdown. But there were times when a majority of the Bruins on the court looked fatigued, especially on D, which led to far-too-easy of APU baskets. Love is in better shape than he was in high school, but he could easily be in even better shape. Curiously, the guy who you'd think might be in fairly poor shape and would get winded, Josh Shipp, looked fine throughout the game.

Westbrook is going to be a key – and not only if he has to take over the point guard duties if Collison is indeed out for an extended time. Besides that, Westbrook supplies the defensive energy to the perimeter. It not only gets the team playing hard defensively, but the energy spills over to the offensive end.

With the UCLA band playing, "All You Need is Love," Kevin Love looked good offensively, scoring 7 of the first 12 UCLA points in the first 4 minutes and finishing with 15, in just 21 minutes played. He's so effective around the basket, and so deceptively quick with his baseline spins and footwork. Just like in AAU ball, he is a great natural rebounder, moving out of his area to rebound better than just about anyone his size, finishing with 12 boards. A double-double in just 21 minutes in his first college game. We even got to see a few of Love's outlet passes.

Shipp led all scorers with 20 points and, if this game is any indication of how he's going to play, then UCLA fans should be ecstatic. He looks like he's in good shape, he showed good energy on defense, and he played within himself on offense. With all the space he potentially can get on the perimeter now that UCLA is going inside-outside, he looks pretty content to knock down the open three.

Mbah a Moute air-balled his first three, then missed his next attempt before hitting one in rhythm. He had a number of beautiful passes in the post, or off a drive where he dished. He and Love look like they work very well together.

Roll had 16 points, making three of five from three, while looking very confident in his shot.

Mata-Real looked a bit winded, since he hadn't practiced, and his free-throw-shooting funk returned, after Howland said he was shooting 80% from the free-throw line in practice. He air-balled a couple of free throws and clanked others, to go 1 for 6 from the line.

When APU went to a pretty bad zone defense in the second half for about three minutes, they must have not scouted Nikola Dragovic because they left him alone, and Dragovic quickly drained three wide open threes. He'll be the ninth man in the rotation, but he could be used quicker against zones. You can see he's far more comfortable, after a year of being in the program.

Chace Stanback, the freshman, showed flashes of his talent, with a couple of nice, quick entry passes, a long three-pointer and a nice floater in the lane. While he might not get a lot of playing time this year, if any, he's going to be a good one down the line because of his good feel for the game.

Collison played just 26 minutes, and only 9 minutes in the second half, when he said the knee was still bothering him. If it's a meniscus tear, and he's out 4 weeks, that's a huge chunk of the non-conference schedule. We'll put a silver-lining spin on this and say, if he is indeed out for that long, it will then get Westbrook an intensive course in running the point for UCLA that can only benefit the Bruins in March.


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