UCLA Loses Poise and Game, 72-63

UCLA, uncharacteristically, gets taken out of its game, loses its poise against USC, and drops a critical home conference game. The Bruins were fraught with bad decisions, and just about everyone contributed...

UCLA lost to USC Saturday, 72-63.

There was so much wrong with that game, it's difficult to know where to start.

And I'm sure I'll definitely leave something out, so forgive me.

Overall, it was a very unusual game for UCLA under Ben Howland – a game where UCLA didn't dictate the style and pace of the game but allowed the other team to do it.

USC degraded the game to more of an open, looser, AAU-type style, and instead of UCLA calmly seizing back the tempo and style, it succumbed.

That lead to probably the most poor decisions a UCLA team has made in one game in many years. There were probably more bad decisions in this game than UCLA had made in all of its previous Pac-10 games this season combined.

So, why did UCLA get taken out of its game? Probably the most apparent was the adrenaline, it being a much-hyped game against its crosstown rival. There was also a fatigue factor, with UCLA down to really seven players.

And there was a lack of leadership, among the players and probably the coaching staff.

Combine those three elements, when you have your opponent trying to rev you up, you're going to be more prone to making bad decisions.

No one is absolved from blame in terms of making bad decisions in this one.

The team, collectively and individually, got revved up so much they forced and hurried their play, which caused many mistakes. Russell Westbrook is one player who is prone to getting revved up, and he definitely did in this one, and had easily his worst game since West Virginia last season. He made more bad decision in this game than he has, probably, since the West Virginia game, in all of the games combined. Typical was trying to throw down a monster dunk when taking off much too far away from the basket when he could have easily just laid the ball in. He made passes, dribbled with no purpose and took questionable shots. Even some of the good looks he had – the usually very dependable mid-rangers – looked flat and out-of-sync, probably due to too much adrenalin.

Darren Collison succumbed, too. There were some very critical possessions when UCLA needed a good offensive possession, with good execution, and he over-dribbled or took an ill-advised shot. Perhaps the most glaring was a possession with UCLA trailing by a point with about 2 minutes left. The Bruins needed a very well executed possession, but Collison drove to the basket, pushed out wider than he should to take a shot, and had it blocked – with Kevin Love under the basket looking for a dump-off. UCLA's chances of winning the game unraveled from there. In one transition, Collison lead a three-on-one break, with Josh Shipp andWestbrook open on either wing, but he forced the lay up and missed it. Howland could be heard throughout Pauley saying: "Darren, pass the ball!" Collison's lack of poise, too, is particularly pronounced, given the fact that he is, indeed, the point guard, and responsible for directing the team and its tempo on the court, and keeping them focused. Collison, to his credit, admitted as much in the post-game interview.

Josh Shipp, whose shooting kept UCLA in the game for most of it, then had some of the most glaring break-downs in the last few-minute stretch at the end of the game. He has a tendency, when he's made some threes, to then force one and miss it, which he did. But this was a hugely critical time – with the score tied at 60-60, and three minutes left in the game – again, a time when UCLA needed to be smart and get a good offensive possession with a good shot. Shipp shot an off-balance three, not very deep into the shot clock, with a defender in his face. Then, in USC's next two offensive possessions, Shipp was beaten badly by the slowest perimeter player on the Trojan roster – Daniel Hackett. Usually, Hackett is the guy who is on the bad end of a mismatch, but this time it was different. USC coach Tim Floyd, by the second half, realized he should utilize Angelo Johnson, a 5-11 point guard, so that, the way the match-ups worked out, Shipp was guarding Hackett. Hackett isn't, by any means, someone who can take a good defender off the dribble; he's actually a guy that gets in trouble attempting it because he actually thinks he's better than he is. But he worked Shipp in USC's next two possessions, and Shipp didn't step up, but allowed it to happen. Hackett went right around him, the defense rotated to his penetration, and Hackett dumped off to Davon Jefferson who hit a 10-footer. 62-60. Shipp was then fouled and missed one of two free throws. 62-61. On the very next possession, USC cleared out for Hackett again, and again he took Shipp off the dribble with ease, and Hackett scored on a short shot. 64-61, and USC, with those two possessions, took control of the game and UCLA was playing catch-up for the last two and a half minutes. Shipp is a good offensive player; he's playing well within the flow of UCLA's offense, generally, and doesn't take near as many ill-advised shots or drives as he used to. But his defense is a liability at crucial times, and opposing coaches know it. Here's the thing: Shipp's defense in the NCAA tournament last season was pretty good. He was active, intense and focused. In fact, it was brought up a number of times by Howland himself as an example of Shipp being able to play solid defense. So, why hasn't he played defense like that since?

But in no way is this game Shipp's fault. Without his five threes, UCLA isn't even in this game. You definitely have to give him credit for that. It just doesn't absolve him from the question about his defense.

Kevin Love didn't make too many bad decisions. He missed a few gimmes, probably also too wound up by the emotions of the game. The problem with Kevin Love is that he didn't, again, touch the ball enough. When Love made a three-pointer to make the score 57-51 with 7:21 left, it felt like UCLA was on its way to having the game in hand. But, from then on out, Love barely touched the ball. He didn't score for the last 7:21.

This was the worst decision made in this game. And the issue will continue to haunt this team until it realizes something. The other four players on the floor have to come to terms with the fact that Kevin Love is UCLA's money player. He's the guy that the offense needs to go through. He's the one that UCLA's guards need to get to touch the ball. Now, maybe the coaches are emphasizing this, maybe they're not. But the players on the court clearly aren't working hard enough to get Love touches in the low post -- especially during critical possessions down the stretch of close games. . Shipp needs to realize that Love is the man. Collison needs to realize it. Unless they subvert their own egos, and stop with the attempts to be the late-game heroes, and realize that Love is the man on offense to lead them down the stretch, UCLA will have issues.

If Collison, as the point guard, is going to be the team's leader, he has to realize this – not try to force a last shot of his own. And it's not that Love needs to take the last shot – even though you'd prefer it – but the offense needs to go to him first in critical possessions, and then other good shot opportunities will come out of it for the other four players on the floor.

UCLA has a balanced offense with a very potent low-post scoring presence for the first time in years, and they are consciously taking it away from themselves.

As we said, everyone made bad decisions in this one. Alfred Aboya has no place taking an 18-foot jumper up by three with 8 minutes left in the game. This is when the game is a possession-by-possession affair, and UCLA needs to make sure that they are taking high-percentage shots with their best scoring options on every possession. This wasn't just Aboya making a bad decision, but Aboya falling into a trap set by USC's Floyd. The triangle-and-two zone is meant to take away a team's inside scoring and its two best shooters, and allow the team's two worst scoring options space to take a shot – and miss. Our boy Aboya took the bait.

We'll have to give a pass to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, since it was learned he suffered a concussion and wasn't completely there mentally. It's a good excuse, because at the end of the first half he made some truly bad decisions, forcing drives and shots, when UCLA needed to run the shot clock and get a good look.

With James Keefe, he did, in fact, make one bad decision – and was pulled quickly. He made a very poor entry pass to Love after playing just a few minutes of the second half, and he never saw the floor again. Keefe, up until that point, had played well, hitting a three-pointer, which was perhaps his biggest shot of his UCLA career, scoring five points and getting two rebounds, one in considerable traffic, in a total of 12 minutes. Hey, at least Keefe's one bad decision had good intentions – to get the ball to Love down low.

The statistics bear out the assertion that UCLA had a game of bad decisions. They made 66 shots, 20 more than USC, but hit six less (22 to 28). UCLA shot 26 threes and made just 8. They had just 10 assists, to USC's 20. And then had 4 more turnovers than assists (14). They also allowed USC to shoot an eye-opening 60.9% from the field, and 62.5% in the second half. That high percentage came from poor defensive decisions, especially on rotations, allowing USC to get a number of lay-ups and dunks.

Collison was 4 for 11. Westbrook was 2 for 11. Mbah a Moute was 1 for 7. Aboya was 0 for 4. Between the four of them, that's 7 for 33, or 21%.

That's half of the shots UCLA took, and they made just 21% of them.

Hopefully, UCLA will take this game and hold it up as evidence of the pitfall they have to work hard to avoid – losing their poise.

Hopefully, when Mike Roll returns, if that's in a couple of weeks, UCLA will have a solid nine-man rotation, and fatigue won't contribute to the potential pitfall, too.

UCLA will play four of its next six games on the road, which will provide it plenty of opportunities to work on its poise. And then we'll see how much they've learned before the re-match with USC February 17th.

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