There are some things to take from the Duke game that were positive, but there might be some other things about the game that were even more damning about the team than even possibly the loss to San Diego.
In recent years, the UCLA basketball team has bounced back in games such as the one against Duke – like when they beat #1-ranked
In fact, you have to really take into consideration that this young Duke team is not on the same par with the highly-ranked teams UCLA has upset in recent years – like
So, if there was ever a game in recent years where UCLA faced a highly-ranked team that they should be able to knock off, this was it.
UCLA didn't ultimately keep the game close as much as Duke did. With about 8 minutes left to go in the game and with a lead anywhere from 15 to 20 points, Duke definitely took its foot off the pedal. It started trying to run the clock on every possession. If Duke would have kept the pedal to the metal the final score would have been quite a bit different.
And the excuse that UCLA didn't have the talent that Duke does didn't generally hold up if you compared the talent that was on the floor throughout the game. UCLA had three McDonald's All-Americans on the floor for most of the game – Jason Kapono, Ray Young and Cedric Bozeman. Coach K himself recruited T.J. Cummings and Cummings chose UCLA over Duke. Duke was probably less experienced than UCLA, too, when you matched up the players it had on the court against those UCLA did for most of the game.
So, while UCLA only lost by 11 points and you might think this wasn't the blowout that many expected, there were indications in this game that were just as disappointing as if it had been.
UCLA's offense, first, is stagnant. If this is a motion offense, it's not apparent. Only occasionally did players cut and screen and move the ball. Most possessions entailed the UCLA offense awkwardly trying to go through the motions of the motion, and then degrading into one player going one on one to try to score. CBS's Billy Packer kept repeating the fact that UCLA has one of the best outside shooters in college basketball, Kapono, and no one sets screens for him to get a shot. San Diego and Duke both have defended UCLA the way you thought any team would coming into this season – shadow Kapono, don't let him get his shot off, and make someone else on UCLA beat you. But, at least, you would think that UCLA would attempt to set some screens for Kapono. Kapono sets more screens himself than he gets set for him.
There is some semblance of a team that could evolve here, though. It's pretty evident, as we said in the season preview, UCLA needs to play Mike Fey and get him some experience. He and Ryan Hollins are UCLA's only hope at putting together any kind of even semi-solid post defense, which has been a real weakness in UCLA's first two games and two exhibitions. Not wanting to really target any player in particular, but the team definitely plays better with T.J. Cummings on the bench. Perhaps if Fey and Hollins provide more minutes at the center position, Cummings will be more effective when he's comfortable in his role as a 4-3ish type. It's quite clear, though, that, just for defensive purposes, you'd rather have the raw Fey and Hollins, with their natural shot-blocking and rebounding abilities, in the game than trying to force Cummings into playing defense as a center.
The press that UCLA brought out with about 5 minutes to play forced a few turnovers. It was curious that it took until five minutes left in the game for it to be attempted, and it was probably a little deceiving in its effectiveness since it came when Duke was on the downward slope toward victory. It would be interesting to see if UCLA will experiment more with it in the next three games against
There is much to be excited about in the play of Cedric Bozeman and Dijon Thompson. Thompson was the best player on the floor in the first five minutes of the game. He finished with 15 points.