Bruins Show First-Half Strength

UCLA got through a second-half lull to only create a small degree of worry before coasting to the 69-55 win over Washington at Pauley Pavilion. Overall, UCLA's strong defense and solid offensive execution in the first half was enough...

UCLA beat a not-so-good Washington team, 69-55, Thursday, to remain 3-0 in the conference.

The Bruins played a very good first half, went through a lull in the second half, like they have before, and then preserved the easy win.

It's a frightening and maddening thing, waiting for UCLA's lull in every game. In the Cal game last Saturday, which was perhaps their best game of the year, they had a good-sized one in the second half.

At the beginning of the season, many times the team went through its lull in the first half.

Whenever it comes, every Bruin fan knows it's coming and is hoping the team can get through it.

This one came at about the 14-minute mark, with UCLA up 54-32 , and a few possessions away from putting the game completely out of reach. But over the next four minutes, Washington went on a 14-3 run to pull within 11 with 10 minutes left.

In the past we attributed UCLA's lulls to a lack of killer instinct, not yet having that hunger of a champion.

In this game, it might have been other things, too. Darren Collison left the game right before Washington's run with a left hip contusion. While it's been pretty well documented that Collison hasn't looked like the same Collison from last season, his absense was definitely felt in this one. Without him, UCLA really only has one ball handler in Russell Westbrook, and his ball-handling is just passable. Washington put pressure on Westbrook and over-played all the other Bruins, forcing UCLA into a few turnovers. It didn't help that UCLA took a number of quick, ill-advised shots and gave the ball back to the Huskies quickly when they didn't turn it over.

UCLA, also, after allowing Washington just 32 points in the first 26 minutes, gave up those 14 points in just 4 minutes. It's one thing to not convert offensively, and it's understandable when you lose Collison, but UCLA's defense then deflated for those four minutes and allowed Washington the easiest shots they had all game. To a degree, it was missing Collison's defense that was a big issue. Washington used its freshman point guard, the only true point guard on the team, Venoy Overton, and he was able to use ball screens well to get around Westbrook (and even Collison before he left the game) a few times to create good looks for his teammates. Inside, UCLA got a little slow on its rotation after a post double team. Whenever Jon Brockman caught the ball UCLA immediately doubled him, but there were a few times that he passed out of it to Artem Wallace for easy baskets, with UCLA's defenders nowhere in the vicinity of sliding over to pick up Wallace.

After Westbrook hit one of his patented mid-rangers at the 9-minute mark to put UCLA up, 61-47, Howland called a timeout, to re-set the defense. UCLA's defense tightened up enough from that point on and UCLA cruised through the last 9 minutes.

One one hand, it's worrisome to watch UCLA have to play with such a limited rotation. With Mike Roll out, Collison off the floor, Josh Shipp was also in foul trouble, and Alfred Aboya fouled out with about nine minutes left in the game. Essentially UCLA was down to six guys, at this point using James Keefe and Chace Stanback pretty liberally – since Howland had to.

You can see why Howland now swears he's going to do everything he can to have 13 players on scholarship.

It's also beneficial to have some talented players like Keefe and Stanback as your fall-back guys. Keefe, still rounding into game shape, played 17 minutes, didn't score, but had two rebounds and played good defense. His good positional defense and block of a Quincy Pondexter post-up was textbook. It's pretty clear how confident Howland is in Keefe's defense, allowing him to go up against Pondexter, a true small forward with good quickness. Stanback's defense, too, is improving, and it's giving Howland more confidence in him.

But when you're talking about defense, overall UCLA had a good game. It kept Washington to shooting 41% from the field and just 2 of 10 from three. Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute traded off crowding Washington's trigger-happy long-range shooter, Ryan Appleby, and he went scoreless, with three turnovers. Brockman was held below his averages, which is now standard for post players when they face UCLA.

On offense, you could make a case that Kevin Love didn't touch the ball enough. He went scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the second half. He only had six shots overall and didn't touch the ball in the post for long stretches. Washington was collapsing a couple of defenders on him, fronting him at times to keep him out of posting up, but the Bruins – and Love – still need to work harder to get him in position to catch the ball on the block. Because when he does, good things happen, even if Love doesn't score. He's probably UCLA's best passer, with four great assists, mostly high-low stuff to Lorenzo Mata-Real.

Westbrook had his highest total of turnovers so far this season, with five, against just four assists. But he still had a stellar performance, with the game-high 19 points. His ability to drive into the lane and pull-up for a mid-range is perhaps UCLA's best offensive weapon. This will probably jinx it, but it's difficult to remember the last time he missed one. He's also continuing to show a fantastic ability to pass once he's made that penetration, and he would have had a few more assists if the passes had been converted. In the second half, Westbrook laid off a beautiful bounce pass between two defenders in the lane that Love fumbled on the way to an open basket. Love usually catches those but it might have been he was surprised as everyone that the ball squeaked through a throng of defenders.

Mbah a Moute had a good offensive game, making better decisions on when to take the ball to the hoop instead of forcing it like he has at times in the past. He's so good at driving to the basket from the top of the key, with his long strides making him just a couple of steps away. He finished with 17 points.

One of the best developments for this team is its improved free-throw shooting. They were 19 of 21 in this game and in the last seven games are 100 of 119, which is 84%.

Again, it was curious that Washington didn't zone UCLA for more than just a few minutes, like Cal.

The second-half lull, too might have been attributed a bit to UCLA looking past the Huskies to the big showdown with the #4-ranked Washington State Cougars on Saturday. Howland adamantly insists that his team doesn't look past opponents, but even some of the players in the Tuesday press conference talked more about the Cougars than the Huskies.

It's clear, though, that UCLA needs a healthy Collison to avoid lulls, and a foul-free Shipp is pretty handy, too. We can't really hope of Aboya ever really playing without the threat of being in foul trouble.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories