UCLA finally started getting things rolling against pitiful Long Beach State. There were definitely some positives to take from this game, and there are still some concerns to consider...
More than anything, UCLA's victory over hapless Long Beach State, 81-58, was a relief.
As stated in the preview, Long Beach State is pretty darn bad, and they showed it Sunday afternoon. If UCLA hadn't beaten this team significantly, it would have led you to believe that there was quite a bit more to be concerned about this Bruin team.
So, the Bruins did live up to expectation.
So, here is a very balanced review of what to get from the Long Beach State game – both the negatives and positives.
Rebounding: It was very positive that UCLA finally crashed some boards. They outrebounded the 49ers 44-21. On the negative side, Long Beach State didn't, for most of the game, have anyone over 6-6 on the court. Their starting center was 6-6 Lemi Williams who had been playing point guard in Long Beach State's previous games.
Jason Kapono: The positive was that Kapono was truly a thing of beauty Sunday. In high school, Kapono was one among a few kids who has gotten labeled over the years as a "Larry Bird-type." He earned the rep because of his great court sense and passing ability. Since playing at UCLA, he really hasn't displayed it as much, but has been more of a designated long-distance shooter. Sunday the fully dimensional Kapono was evident on the court. The negative: We really do know how good Jason Kapono is. And everyone on the planet expects him to be the guy to lead UCLA this year. But we're waiting for someone else (Dijon Thompson?) to step up and show that someone else can carry this team in some games other than Kapono. When Kapono gets shut down, as he did in the previous games this season, this team needs someone else to step up and carry the load.
Dijon Thompson: He had the play of the game when he hustled back to block a Long Beach State breakaway layup. Negative: But not starting the game due to sprained thumb, Thompson looked out of sync and not in the flow. Thompson is probably the best all-around talent on the team, and UCLA is going to need him to perform this year at a high level every game.
Point guard: Ryan Walcott returned to the team and brought some added quickness. He had seven assists and three steals with no turnovers. Negative: Walcott still appears to be, at the most, a backup-level option. And Cedric Bozeman looked like he was sleep-walking.
Andre Patterson: He attended the game and told most anyone who asked him that he's almost a complete certainty to return to UCLA. He has been attending Santa Monica City College and taking three classes. He had been told that he needed a B average in those classes to rejoin the team, and Patterson said he has two As and a C. If he does return, it should be in time to play against Northern Arizona December 17th. Negative: There are some scattered reports out of UCLA that Patterson returning is less than the slam dunk it appears. Conclusion: More than likely, it's safe to be optimistic that Patterson will return, but maybe it's also wise to retain a small trace of skepticism. If Patterson does return, he does seem like the much-needed ingredient to this UCLA team. He'll provide rebounding and inside scoring, maybe allow UCLA to press more, and is the type of fiery player to get the sometimes-sleepy Bruins fired up.
UCLA is in the middle of its non-conference cupcake schedule. Next up is pastry Portland, led by head coach and former UCLA assistant Michael Holton. Portland is 3-2, after suffering losses in recent days to Oregon and Oregon State. They got whacked by the Ducks, 96-66. But between the Pilots and the opponent on the schedule followign them, Northern Arizona, Portland will probably present the toughest game. But that's not saying much.
While against the upcoming cupcakes it would be very good for UCLA to continue the positives we saw against Long Beach State, it's also vital that the Bruins improve on some of the negatives if it really hopes to be a tough out by the end of the season.