San Diego Game and the Season?

UCLA loses its season opener to San Diego in overtime, 86-81 in front of an announced 6,845 at Pauley Pavilion. The season is still early, obviously, but given this performance and those in the two exhibition games, what can we reasonably hope for?

It's pretty hard to watch, no matter what side of the UCLA basketball civil war you have staked your claim to.

 

It's tough to watch UCLA lose to San Diego in Pauley Pavilion.

 

While it was promising that the team played better against San Diego than it had in its two exhibition games , it's also a bit distressing since it still lost this game, to a team that's picked to finished 4th in the West Coast Conference.  

 

After the Branch West lost, we speculated that that game could have been the low end of the performance scale for the UCLA team this year. But, it's a bit alarming to think that the improved performance and effort against San Diego Tuesday night could be a bit toward the higher end of the performance scale for this team.

 

If so, it will be a very long and agonizing season.

 

If you're a true UCLA fan, though, you have to , at this point, look at the positives, even if there weren't many.  

 

The team definitely showed better effort and intensity, especially defensively. 

 

Cedric Bozeman had a good game, with 13 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds against only one turnover.  He also was 2 for 4 from three.  It's very promising in the long-term to see that Bozeman has the potential to be as good a player as he showed he was in high school. 

 

Dijon Thompson led UCLA in scoring with 21 smooth points, and had five assists. He played with some great effort and intensity, and buried some very long-range jumpers with a very nice stroke.  Thompson, right now, is the best player on the team, and projecting down the line, has a chance to be very successful while he's at UCLA.

 

UCLA's two seniors, Jason Kapono and Ray Young, showed some development in their games. Even though Kapono had an off night shooting (7 for 18 and 1 for 8 from three), he showed improved quickness that he used a bit to create a shot for himself.  Ray Young's challenge has always been to play under control and make good decisions – and of course, to improve his outside jumper – and it looks like he's made strides in all of those areas. It's good to see players like Kapono and Young, kids who you admire for their character, continue to improve. 

 

Again, as we pointed out in the season preview, the team's interior play – both offensively and defensively – looks to be a huge factor in the team's performance.  As of right now, there is very little interior play, with very little low-block scoring opportunities. San Diego out-rebounded UCLA by a huge margin, 49-33.  On defense, no Bruin could defend San Diego's center, Jason Keep, who had a career day dominating inside, going for 30 points and 16 boards. 

 

It's still a bit of a mystery why Michael Fey might not get more playing time. Last night he saw the floor for only three minutes. In fact, UCLA's bench was very slack. Contributing just 9 points and three boards collectively – and actually, Josiah Johnson was responsible for all of those bench points and rebounds. Between Jon Crispin, Fey and Ryan Hollins, they played 18 minutes and had 0 points and 0 rebounds.  We're obviously not coaches, but it would seem that UCLA desperately needs some post play – both defensively and offensively – and just about the only potential place to get it looks to be from Fey. It would seem wise to give Fey a good chunk of minutes, let him play through his mistakes, and hopefully he'll get comfortable and be able to provide good interior play by the latter half of the season. 

 

After losing its season opener, UCLA now faces #4-ranked Duke. Duke is probably over-rated at #4, but they're still very good, and also a very frightening matchup for this UCLA team – with a steady wave of big, frontcourt players and very good outside shooters. 

 

If UCLA loses to Duke, it will be the first time in 41 years that UCLA lost its first two games of a season – not since 1961.

 

Now, looking at the schedule, even though UCLA has played only one game that counts yet this season, the schedule looks quite a bit more daunting. You'd have to think that, unless this team vastly improves, Pac-10 road games, at least, could be a mine field.  Here's an eye-opening projection of the schedule. If you give UCLA:

 

-- Wins against Long Beach State, Portland, Northern Arizona and Michigan (all very poor teams).

 

-- 3 out of 4 wins against the Washington schools.

 

-- A split with USC.

 

-- A win against Arizona State at home.

 

-- A 2-2 record with the Bay Area schools.

 

-- A sweep of Oregon State.

 

That would give the team (brace yourself), a 13-14 regular season record.   

 

It is difficult to consider this, especially given the fact that UCLA holds the NCAA record for consecutive winning seasons, currently at 54.

 

Could the team beat this projection? What would have to happen for it to do it?

 

The team showed signs that it had made strides in the San Diego game, as detailed above.  It would have to even turn up the intensity from what it showed in the San Diego game. Also, Jason Kapono's shooting could improve since he's still nursing an injured shooting thumb. Crispin has not been the player that many expected, possibly because he's slowed by a recent concussion and a foot injury.  He could very well contribute more as the season progresses. If Mike Fey can continue to improve and provide more solid minutes in the post it would go a long way. And then there's the probable return of Andre Patterson, in time for the Kansas game. Patterson's presence, his ability to rebound and score around the basket, while it will probably not single-handedly be able to affect a different outcome for the Kansas game, could down the line turn a few more games into UCLA's win column. 

 


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