CBU: Promising but Concerns

Of course, you can't take too much from an exhibition game, but UCLA's 86-58 victory over Cal Baptist Monday, while it showed some of the potential of, say Jrue Holiday and J'mison Morgan, it also underlined some of the major concerns of the season...

Usually you can't take much from an exhibition game. And it's still probably true about UCLA's win over Cal Baptist, 86-58, Monday.

But since UCLA has five freshmen who are definitely going to play, this exhibition might be a bit unique in terms of takeaways.

You definitely shouldn't take away anything from Darren Collison's mediocre performance (8 pts, 4 turnovers, 1 assist, 0 for 2 from three). I think we've all seen Collison enough over the last three years to trust that he can play.

Josh Shipp, in his inimitable way, led the team in scoring with 20 points. He let the game come to him, which was good, without forcing too many drives – and he hit his open threes (going 3 for 4). It's a bit concerning because we've been sucked into believing every year in the early season that Shipp has developed into a good three-point shooter because of his early shooting performance. Hopefully this year he can sustain it.

James Keefe looked good rebounding, getting five rebounds (actually all in the first half, only playing seven minutes in the second half) and five points. It's clear the added weight has allowed him to be more physical. Having seen Keefe this summer and in practice, he has definitely improved his shooting, so it was a bit concerning when he pulled up for a baseline jumper and missed decisively.

For three years the biggest concern about Alfred Aboya was his penchant for fouling. Then, when it was asserted he'd be the starting center on this year's team, it especially became a concern. With all of that build-up, and with Ben Howland even conceding he talked to Aboya before the game about it, Aboya went out and committed two fouls within 3 minutes.

Right now, the biggest concern of the season is easily Aboya. Not only the issue of whether he'll be able to keep his fouling under control, but there's a considerable question whether Aboya is effective enough to play starter's minutes. In this game, he fumbled passes, missed easy lay-ups, and was seemingly out of position and off-balance trying to rebound (he ended with 3 boards, but in just 12 minutes). He hit one baseline jumper, but it's almost the matter that you wish he hadn't made it, since you knew it would encourage him to do it again, which he did, and missed. Aboya has been effective coming off the bench for three years, injecting energy and physicality into the lineup at opportune moments, but it's definitely uncertain if his game translates to anything more than 15-18 minutes a game.

Will UCLA's season hinge on one of the freshman post players developing and, at the very least, being able to keep Aboya off the floor for 20 minutes – which would make Aboya so much more effective?

It would seem Howland is going to try to piece together Drew Gordon and J'mison Morgan, and see if he can do that to a degree. Gordon came off the bench first to spell Aboya and totaled 17 minutes, but Morgan had a productive 18 minutes, leading the team with 9 rebounds, getting a block and being the only player on the team that exhibited any kind of scoring post move. Again, it's hard to take anything from the first exhibition, but it could be that Howland will try both of them in a typical game and see who is more effective. Of course, it will be all about match-ups, with Gordon more suited to play against smaller posts and Morgan better against bigger, slower guys. But it definitely is among the top issues on this team, if not the most important – that is, getting very productive time for at least 20 minutes from Gordon/Morgan to keep Aboya's time on the floor limited and effective.

Both Gordon and Morgan looked uncertain at times, which is expected. Both of them looked good rebounding, which is one of the two things it's going to take to keep them on the floor. The other one is defense, and they were a bit iffy, with both being back-doored in this game, while also allowing CBU too much presence in the paint (UCLA only out-rebounded CBU 41-32, but the long rebounds are also result when you play against an outside shooting team). It's going to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the early part of the season – which one of Gordon and Morgan makes more advances to earn an advantage with Howland for playing time. Gordon has the edge now, because Howland knows he'll play hard and Morgan has a stamina issue, but it wouldn't be surprising if Morgan is getting the majority of the back-up minutes at center by January.

It wasn't tough to see, even in this environment, who is the elite talent on the team. Take a mental picture of Jrue Holiday in that UCLA uniform because you're not going to be seeing it too long. Holiday did just about everything, finishing with 12 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds and six steals. He was a defensive force, responsible for probably at least 3 or 4 more CBU turnovers because of his defensive pressure and knack for anticipating the pass.

From someone who has seen Holiday play dozens and dozens of times over the years, know this: Holiday was holding back. This was a reserved Holiday Monday night, still obviously feeling out things. You could see him start to tap into more of his talent and let go as the game went on. There were times, especially against CBU's zone, where you could see he just said, "Screw this, I'm going into the paint and taking it to the hoop." Which he did, to either do his hang-in-the-air-and-make-a-miraculous-shot thing or dish to someone else. He had one rebound where he tossed an outlet to Collison before he came down to the ground. He had a spin move in the lane that left the defender completely frozen. He caught an alley oop for himself (in fact, it result in his first basket as a Bruin), and another one intended for his opponent. He jumped so many passing lanes with excellent defensive anticipation.

Bruin fans, you have so much more to look forward to in terms of Holiday. Wait until he feels comfortable enough to fully unleash himself.

Jerime Anderson did exactly what we would have predicted – ran the team, made the nice set-up pass (finishing with 3 assists), played good defense (3 steals), while looking shaky shooting it, even from the free-throw line (one for five).

Malcolm Lee is perhaps the freshman who didn't represent in a way that would, well, represent his talent. He'll have to take better care of the ball (3 turnovers) if he's going to get significant minutes, and it is the one concern in terms of Lee's game – the fact that he can be out of control at times. But you saw flashes of the incredible quickness he possesses for his size, especially on defense.

Mike Roll went 2 for 7 from the field and 0 for 2 from three, which isn't indicative of how he's been practicing. He looked a step quicker defensively, due to being in better shape.

Nikola Dragovic was perhaps the best surprise. Of course, everyone has known he's a "shooter," but it's another thing to do it in a game consistently, which Dragovic hasn't been able to do. With Dragovic, if he's not knocking down threes, there aren't many more reasons for him to be on the floor. At least, in the past. Monday he looked confident shooting, hitting 4 of 6 from three, finishing with 13 points, and he looked solid defensively – probably because he was finally defending the four and not the three (where he's been for the last two years). Unless he suddenly turns into a monster rebounder he'll never supplant Keefe for minutes, but hopefully this is an indication that he will be able to give the offense a lift in shooting at the four off the bench.

The team, of course, looked out of sync for a great deal of the game on offense. The new players were thinking about where they needed to be, which made it difficult for Howland's timing offense to work.

It will be interesting to watch as the other players realize that putting the ball in Holiday's hands will generally make things happen. It will be interesting to see how often Howland allows Holiday to merely take his man and go to the basket, since he's capable of doing it almost all the time. It will also be interesting to see how Shipp reacts – if he's content with spotting up outside and waiting for the kick-out.

While you can't take anything from UCLA playing against CBU's zone, it does seem that the Bruins will be more effective in breaking down a zone with more guards that are better at doing it.

It also appears that UCLA, with how many good defensive guards it now has, is going to look to trap the ball up high more often, not only out of the hedge but with two guards.

This game, more than anything, generated a great deal of anticipation for Friday, to see the next step in the team's development when they play their second exhibition against Biola.

And probably the biggest takeaway from the game was that no one was injured.


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