UCLA Gets in Work Against CSUSB

You have to look at a game like this one, against D-1 Cal State San Bernardino, as a chance for UCLA to work on some things. There were some positives, and UCLA generally played better, but, if we're nitpicking, there are a few minor concerns...

The Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes served a purpose in losing to #2 UCLA, 76-41, Tuesday in the second round of the CBE Classic.

They got the Bruins some work against a full-court press and half-court zone. They got Russell Westbrook more time on the court to keep improving, which he has.

And they made it clear that UCLA has some more work to do in exploiting its newfound strength: Getting the ball inside to Kevin Love. Granted, San Bernardino used a zone the entire game. UCLA, in its first few games did emphasize getting Love touches in the post against man defenses. So, maybe the Bruins weren't as familiar with getting Love touches against a zone.

But still. Love scored just three points in the first half, and there were plenty of UCLA possessions where he didn't touch the ball.

One problem is, without UCLA's two best perimeter passers, Darren Collison and Mike Roll, there aren't too many guys who know how to execute a good post entry feed. But also, UCLA wasn't looking that much for Love in the post. Or, in rotating the ball against a zone, they weren't giving Love enough time to post up. They'd look for him when the ball was swung around, but he wasn't posted up yet so they'd swing it back.

The one criticism I can muster for UCLA's offense so far this season is, even with Love averaging 20 points per game so far, they're not using him offensively enough. Ben Howland's offense is based on getting guys open by executing screens, and that's fantastic. Love has benefitted from it, many times coming off a screen on the baseline and getting the ball plopped in his hands for a lay-up (or a foul). There's the play which runs baseline screens for the center and a wing bounces a baseline pass to the five who comes around the screens and catches it on the block. Those are all well and good, and Love has benefitted from Howland running plays soley intended on getting him screens and loosened up down low. But we haven't seen Love merely posted up enough. We haven't seen enough of Love's real post moves because UCLA isn't posting him up enough. Besides the plays with the intricate screening, there are times when UCLA should keep it simple and just allow Love to post up on the block and have a wing throw him a pass and let him operate. When the ball is swung to his side, perhaps give Love a moment to post up. And then also maybe the rest of the team who aren't very good at post feeds (besides Collison and Roll, and Chace Stanback to an extent) should do a lot of work on how to make a good post feed.

Again, Love is averaging 20 points per game, but UCLA is still just scratching the surface of his offensive potential. And while many might argue that three-point shooting affects the game more, we're more old school in thinking a highly effective inside scorer is the #1 offensive threat, especially with someone like Love who is an exceptional passer out of the post.

Russell Westbrook continued to improve against San Bernardino. He had a very good game Tuesday, finishing with 14 points and six assists and just one turnover, which came early on when he threw an errant alley-oop. After that, Westbrook was pretty much perfect. His defense was excellent, and he showed patience and smarts offensively. If there's one guy on Howland's roster who has really taken Howland's emphasis of the jump stop to heart, it's Westbrook. He is now a master at a two-bounce penetration into the lane, jump stop, and either pull-up or dish. Also, though, Westbrook looked very good against CSUSB because he is, clearly, the best UCLA has against a zone. He naturally has a very good instinct for attacking it. Then penetration and jump stops in the lane against the zone were a thing of beauty.

It almost can't be noted enough how these three games that Collison missed – when UCLA didn't need him – might end up being the best thing that happened to the team all season. In getting Westbrook so much work at the point he has a very good foundation for the rest of the season when he'll need to spell Collison. Plus, it gives Westbrook so much more overall confidence that will undoubtedly pay off down the stretch.

Josh Shipp had two different types of halves. In the first, he was scoring, hitting four threes and scoring 14 points, but he was slack on defense, allowing San Bernardino's Lance Ortiz to drive around him pretty easily. In the second half, Shipp scored just two more points, but didn't have a turnover, had two more assists and played better defense.

Howland has indicated that he wants Shipp to be his defensive stopper and he'll put him on the opponent's best perimeter scorer. Howland isn't stupid; he's saying that publicly to motivate Shipp, and hope that he'll rise to the challenge. But Shipp's defense, in the last two games, hasn't generally been very good. Hopefully it's just a matter of him not getting up for playing against poor competition. The thing about Shipp is that he has the potential be a good defender. He's not quick laterally, but he's clever, able to anticipate well and get his hands in lanes and create turnovers. If Shipp is playing hard on defense, with his natural know-how, he is a good defender, but that's a big "if."

The next biggest worry, behind not getting the ball to Love in the post enough and Shipp's defense, is UCLA's free-throw shooting. UCLA shot 58% in this game and missed a bunch of front ends. You know it's bad when Lorenzo Mata-Real was one of your best free throw shooters on the night, going three for four from the line. Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya went a collective 2 for 7.

UCLA gets to put the game in its win column, but it doesn't get anything to contribute to its RPI, since Cal State San Bernardino is D-2. It probably isn't that big of a deal, but for UCLA, a team you would project to beat just about everyone they face, every game is an opportunity to build that RPI to help NCAA tournament seeding.

UCLA will finally get a chance to do that, going on the road to Kansas City next week to play Maryland in the semi-final of the CBE Classic.

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