It was a bit bizarre, and elicited a small sense of dread – of what UCLA would have on the court if those three were gone for any significant time.
Nothing against Nikola Dragovic, but he ain't a two guard.
Friday can't come soon enough, when at least UCLA will get back Josh Shipp, and there will be some resemblance to the team projected as #1 in many pre-season polls and tabbed to go to the Final Four.
It was good, though, to get Russell Westbrook experience running the one. He played 25 minutes, scored 22 points and had four assists against two turnovers. He showed off his athleticism and talent, and did some very nice things, and got the crowd on its feet with two thunderous dunks in transition. It must be tough to resist when you are executing an offense while you know you can easily take your defender off the dribble and score. We're going to be constructively critical here, though, and say that Westbrook, while looking impressive at times, still has a ways to go in learning to be a point guard. He tends to play fast all the time, and the point guard position needs different speeds and subtlety. He needs to slow down in the half-court offense, make good decisions and make sure he executes with strong fundamentals.
Kevin Love had another double-double, with 23 points and 10 rebounds, with 17 of those points coming in the first half (Love only played 11 minutes in the second half and just 25 overall). Chico State really went after him physically, fouling him almost every time he touched the ball, so it was a matter of Love having to muscle the ball up through flying arms and hands. He went to the line 12 times and made 9 of them. The game was probably a good drill for Love to go through, one where the opposition is going to try to play very physically, and he did well.
If you haven't noticed, when Love has to go to the free-throw line he walks a big, dramatic circle that sometimes goes all the way out to the half-court line before he gets to the free-throw line. One time that he did it, he was walking by the student section and threw up his hands and the students responded with cheers. Another time his teammates were meeting in a huddle at the free-throw line without him while he took his victory stroll. Interestingly, though, the one time he didn't take his pre-free-throw stroll Monday he missed both free throws. Maybe he needs it for rhythm in making his free throws.
Lorenzo Mata-Real came off the bench also to get his own double-double, finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds. There were rebounds that went up and he and Love looked many times like they were in mid-air and deciding who should get it. It's great to see how far Mata-Real has come under Howland, with such good defensive fundamentals in the post. If you remember Mata-Real as a freshman, he was a defensive mess. He still, though, is having problems at the free-throw line, missing four of five. He said afterward that he thinks it's a matter of him not being in game shape yet, having missed so many practices.
The guy who we thought had a good game that Howland didn't mention in his post-game comments was freshman Chace Stanback. Stanback had 10 points and five excellent assists, and two three-pointers. He's already shown that he has such a good sense of the game, making the extra pass to find the shooter more open than himself, the beautiful and quick bounce-pass post feeds that he does so effortlessly. You could see that Howland wasn't very happy with his defense, with Stanback missing a couple of switches and allowing his man an open lane to the basket. But it's a great sign for the future how he's stepped up with confidence in the exhibition games. And that future might be coming sooner than previously thought; with Roll definitely out and Collison probably out for the season opener against Portland State, Stanback is going to play.
With the players missing, Dragovic and Alfred Aboya started the game. Dragovic has definitely improved, being much better defensively than he was a year ago, while he still makes mistakes. He hit one three, and missed another, and missed some wide open mid-rangers that he'll have to bury if he wants to get on the court when all of the injured Bruins return. It might be the only time we'll ever be able to say this: Dragovic led the team in minutes played in this game with 28.
Aboya didn't have a particularly good game. He's still so out of control at times, and his hands aren't great, dropping a few passes that would have been converted easily for baskets. Offensively, it's a crap shoot with him, but defensively he's such a tough match-up. If you're the Chico State player, and you're 6-3, and you look who's guarding you and see a 6-7, 240-pound guy, and he's quicker than you, that has to be very discouraging. He did make a 15-foot jumper that looked good.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, while he only had 7 and 7, still is so freaky good with the mere combination of his feel for the game and his athleticism. He, like Aboya, was able to guard Chico State's guards. He had four assists, and is so good finding his teammates around the basket. He and Love are executing a high-low look out of one offensive set that is very pretty. While his stat line said he shot 2 of 8, we only remember him taking three jump shots and making two of them, one a three pointer. While he might not be a lights-out shooter yet, his shot has definitely improved.
It will be interesting to see, when Shipp returns Friday, if he'll be the back-up point guard or, in fact, if Howland will give walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid those five or so minutes. Abdul-Hamid looked solid against Chico State, but it is only Chico State and not much of a challenge. If he can come in for those 5-7 minutes and not make mistakes he could get those minutes while Collison is out.
You'd have to say that, defensively, UCLA wasn't fantastic. They did use the post double-team effectively, which seemingly forced the Chico State post player into a number of traveling violations that, for some reason, everyone in the building recognized but the refs. UCLA's on-ball defense was decent, even though there were a few defensive lapses. Hopefully Stanback will shore up his defensive holes so Howland thinks he's worthy of getting on the floor even after Collison returns and the available perimeter minutes shrink.
And hopefully Westbrook will use this time to refine his approach to the point guard position. It could really pay off in March.