Bench Gets Time in Easy 82-58 Win

UCLA cruised to a victory in its first game of the season, 82-58, over Prairie View A&M, and Ben Howland didn't hesitate to use his now deep and talented -- but young -- bench. Darren Collison also fell into an old habit of his...

The first game of the season, an easy victory for the Bruins over Prairie View A&M, 82-58, reinforced many things about this team we had believed.

UCLA is going to be completely perimeter oriented. The Bruins got about ¾ of their points from their frontline. There is no one who can seemingly convert on the low block.

The defense, after lackluster efforts in the exhibition games, played with effort, holding PVAMU to 42% shooting, and 22% in the first half.

The team is going to have to rebound by committee. Five players got 6-8 rebounds.

The team is deep in the backcourt, and also athletic and versatile.

Jrue Holiday did some things that again supported the theory that he's the most talented player on the team.

Darren Collison had a typical Collison game – having a poor first half to then play with more urgency in the second half. He had 3 points in the first half and three turnovers. He finished with a team-leading 19 points.

So, let's break this down a bit more, and start with Collison.

Remember, Collison has a long history of playing poorly and tentatively in the first halves of games to then turn up the urgency in the second half, and he did it again Wednesday. It's a strange habit, one that we've asked him about a few times, and he really doesn't have an answer for it, beyond saying that he thinks he's feeling out the opponent in the first half, and then realizes he has to turn it up a notch in the second.

It was also a perfect game to illustrate the aspect of Collison's game we've all come to recognize. At the beginning of the second half, for whatever reason, PVAMU wanted to get up and down, and Collison obliged. He scored 10 of his 19 points within a few minutes, easily slicing through the PVAMU transition defense to take the ball to the rim and score. This is easily where Collison is at his best offensively – where he can use his quickness and speed to beat defenders in transition to the rim, without having to pass the ball. Too bad every opponent won't do the same as PVAMU did – decide they want to take quick shots and push it up and down for a few minutes – just to allow Collison to put up some points.

We learned after the game from Ben Howland that Josh Shipp had a mild ankle sprain he had suffered at practice, and that Howland wasn't even sure he'd play Shipp in this game. Shipp got 23 minutes and played well, doing some of the little aspects of the game that can make Shipp an asset on the court – stepping into passing lanes for steals (he had four), giving up the ball (2 assists, no turnovers) and rebounding (6).

Since Shipp spent so much time on the bench, it gave Howland a chance to give freshman Malcolm Lee additional minutes, and those paid off. Lee finished with 12 points, six rebounds and 3 assists (against two turnovers). He looked quick, especially defending PVAMU's smaller guys, and is an explosion on the break waiting to happen. His ability to lead a break like a point guard is a great dimension.

It was clear Howland wanted to use this game to get all of his youngsters some experience. Lee played 17 minutes, Drew Gordon played 18 and Jerime Anderson and J'mison Morgan each were in for 12. There was a very long stretch in the first half when there were commonly three or four freshmen in at one time. In the second half, with about 11 minutes left and UCLA up 27 points, you could see Howland's intent was to allow the freshmen to bring the game home and keep his starters on the bench. But perhaps they aren't quite ready for that, with PVAMU cutting the lead to 14 by the 5-minute mark and Howland having to install Collison and Alfred Aboya, and then Holiday and James Keefe, to stablize the game.

It's a good sign that Howland wants to get his young players some time. He has, in the past, been conservative in giving his young players minutes early in the season. There have been times when UCLA was playing one of its "cupcakes" and was up by 20 points with 10 minutes left in the game and Howland still didn't take out the starters. He's going to need an experienced Lee, Gordon, Anderson and Morgan in March and November is the time to get them the experience they need to be prepared.

One thing that didn't go as expected was Alfred Aboya getting only one personal foul – and he got it with 6 minutes left in the game, which is uncanny. And Aboya didn't seemingly play less aggressively while staying foul-free. In fact, he beautifully took three charges in the process. He led the team in minutes, playing 30, because he was the back-up four man behind Keefe since Nikola Dragovic was suspended for this game.

Gordon came in to play the five, and he finished with 8 rebounds, which led the team. He's showing everything we thought he would – a good ability to rebound, good energy on both sides of the court, and a rawness, and not just offensively. On defense, he flew at a shooter recklessly, fouling him behind the three-point line. But he did show what he does very well offensively, following up misses, cleaning up a few errant shots with some nice, athletic put-backs.

Howland had said previously that both Gordon and Morgan would play the five exclusively this season, but both were on the court at the same time, with Gordon sliding to the four. Morgan didn't have a great game, playing against smaller post players, but he showed signs – a couple of nice blocks, an up-and-under move on the block, and a length and size finishing around the basket. Defensively, he'll do better against bigger posts.

Jerime Anderson started out his UCLA career with a game in which he struggled. Going up against the 5-8 Michael Griffin, who was very quick and fast, Anderson had problems, which he has sometimes done in high school and AAU ball when facing very quick, small guards. Anderson's ball-handling needs to continue to improve, and it will naturally as he matures and gets stronger. He hadn't committed a turnover in the two exhibitions, but he got a few off his chest, committing six, against 3 turnovers.

The point guard position (Collison and Anderson) committed 12 turnovers, which, against a better opponent, would be the team's demise. The Bruins collectively commited 24 turnovers.

It's a bit expected, with Howland playing the young players significant minutes, and it being the first game of the season.

James Keefe, in 20 minutes, had six rebounds – five of them offensive rebounds. Keefe is doing almost everything right, but the worry with Keefe is his inability to finish. He had at least four easy baskets to convert on the block, but just isn't getting enough power going up, either getting fouled or missing the gimmes. And, if he's going to draw the foul, he's hopefully going to shoot better than 1-for-4 from the free-throw line, or giving the ball to him under the basket essentially becomes a turnover. And this was against Prairie View A&M; how will he struggle to finish against Duke, Texas or USC?

Jrue Holiday's stat line wasn't overly impressive – 11 points, 0 assists, 2 turnovers and two for five from three. But if you were at the game, you saw some things that clearly stood out in this game. Early on, he drove the lane with ease and drew the foul. On the next possession, he had a great touch pass to Keefe under the basket. In one sequence, he was thrown an alley-oop while going out of bounds and he athletically and cleverly, in the air, threw the ball off his opponents head to retain possession. His shot is completely effortless from anywhere on the court. Again, though, we know Holiday and he's still holding back. Hopefully he's going to assert himself and dominate like he's capable of doing.

Even though Mike Roll shot 3 of 7, and 1 for 3 from three, you still came away from the game thinking he shot pretty well. The difference in his game is his capability of taking two bounces and pulling up for a midrange, which he doesn't miss much. The thing the youngsters need to recognize, though, is you can't give Roll the ball on the break, unless he has absolutely no defender on his way to the basket.

This, overall, should be UCLA's best shooting team under Howland to date. Not only do you have Collison, who is 50% from three in the last two years, but Holiday is deadly, and there is not only Roll off the bench, but Lee, who showed off his sweet stroke in this one (having one three-pointer go down and another just miss). Throw in Dragovic, and that's a pretty deep shooting team. Anderson, who isn't a great shooter at this point, even hit a three-pointer in this one.

It's good since UCLA will get tested with a zone. PVAMU went back and forth between a zone and man, but didn't have much success with the zone. When they first unveiled it, Roll and Shipp hit two consecutive threes, and then Holiday added another a few minutes later. And not only can UCLA shoot over a zone, with Holiday, Anderson and Lee they have three additional, good passers who will find seams in the zone.

So far, the most effective set play for UCLA has been the high-low wrap around pass. So far it's been Roll or Lee who catches a pass at the high post and wraps around a pass to the posting big. UCLA had it in its arsenal before, but it really works now with such good passers executing it.

A bit of a worry was UCLA's tentativeness against PVMU's full-court pressure. It probably wouldn't have been as pronounced a concern if Collison had been in the game more (PVAMU pressed mostly against UCLA's young guards). It is something that you'd like to have some confidence in, though – that Anderson, Holiday and Lee are capable of breaking a press.

This is probably Howland's deepest and most athletic team to date, and it's exciting to think how that depth and athleticism will blossom by March. Howland has the capability of going 11 deep, with a great deal of versatility in his backcourt because of the variety of capabilities of Holiday and Lee. The team's perimeter quickness is easily the best it's been under Howland – just having Collison, Holiday and Lee puts him over the top. Lee, though, is really the guy who adds so much; when you go to him off the bench, you're getting a boost in athleticism and play-making.

So, while the score wouldn't give you an indication that the game was exciting, for Bruins fans it was; it gave you a taste of some very exciting aspects of this team that could develop this season.

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