UCLA Takes a Holiday, 89-54

The Bruins tried some different things in beating Florida International Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, including unleashing the spectacular freshman, Jrue Holiday. But how much you can actually take away from playing against FIU is another story...

After the UCLA football team beat Washington a few weeks ago, I said that the win, and much of the Bruins' improved play, had an asterisk next to it because the game was against the lowly Huskies.

It's pretty much the same when it comes to UCLA basketball's win over Florida International, 89-54, Saturday.

You can recognize that UCLA attempted to do some different things, but you can't take away much from how easily effective they were. Against even decent teams it might not all work as well as it did Saturday.

But then again, you have to look at the FIU game as a practice for UCLA, two hours to try some new wrinkles, work out some kinks and get some of the young players experience.

So, if that had been a practice, I would have at least noted that Ben Howland clearly has recognized that Jrue Holiday needs to touch the ball more. Holiday, for the first time in UCLA's five games this season, definitely put his stamp on the game. He scored an incredibly efficient 20 points, on 8 for 8 shooting and three of four from the three-point line (When's the last time you remember someone scoring 20 points on just 8 shots from the field?). Beyond even his scoring, which came with ease mostly around the basket, he created for others with his great passing and vision. He was credited with only two assists, even though it seemed like he had more, and at the very least he had a number of passes that led to an easy assist. This is UCLA's offensive mantra this season: When Holiday touches the ball, good things happen.

Darren Collison was rather efficient himself in terms of scoring: 4 for 5 from the field, 1 for 1 from three, and 2 of 2 from the free-throw line for 11 points. He also had 7 assists.

So, UCLA's starting backcourt combined for 31 points on 12 of 13 shooting, 2 for 2 from three, with 9 assists against 2 turnovers, 8 rebounds and 6 steals.

That almost makes you laugh.

The one thing you could probably nitpick about it was that Collison didn't shoot the ball enough. He did only play 20 total minutes, but he didn't shoot the ball until the 13:12 mark, when he hit a three. He hit another shot after UCLA had worked the ball around futilely without getting a look and then with a little space stepped from about 18 feet and swished it. Collison simply needs to shoot more. At the beginning of this game it was obvious he was trying to get his teammates involved more, but he needs to – to be candid – not think as much as a point guard but as a shooting guard. There is enough shot creation for others going on with Holiday on the floor. Collison is the team's best shooter and he needs to do it. He can't wait until 7 minutes into the game. He's still fifth in three-point attempts on the team, and that's plainly not taking advantage of Collison's three-point shooting ability.

Again, it's with an asterisk because it was against FIU, but it was noticeable that Collison and Holiday are getting a better feel for each other. Holiday is not only so good with the ball, he moves so well without the ball that it makes it easier for Collison to set him up with a pass. Collison found Holiday under the basket a couple of times after Holiday had cleverly used the post screens to find space in the paint.

Again, it's with an asterisk, but Howland called out the motion offense for at least a few possessions, which is a big departure for a Howland-coach UCLA team. Howland, by doing so, is relinquishing control of the offense to his players, which is something Howland watchers were uncertain he'd ever do. So, give the coach some considerable credit to recognize that the offense, with its current personnel, might be better at times creating their own offense rather than by his own set play.

It's funny, too, because the team didn't necessarily do well when they initiated the possession with motion. They looked a bit hurried and uncertain.

See, commonly how UCLA's offense works is this: The possession is initiated with a certain set, in which a few scoring opportunities can be produced out of it. If that doesn't create a look, the players then, with the last 10 seconds or so of the shot clock, revert to motion, some random screening and cutting away from the ball, to try to free up someone. Most of the time it really means a high ball screen for Collison.

So, when the players initiated motion from the outset of the possession, it was almost like they didn't know what to do.

No matter what offensive approach, the team clearly executed far smoother and more effectively with the combination of Collison, Holiday and Mike Roll on the court. Even though they all didn't get that much time individually (none of the three played over 20 minute), they were on the court together for a total of about 6 minutes. It's when UCLA's offense, and transition offense, were most effective. When you add Roll to the mix you have another great passer, one who will look to feed the post or find the open man and, of course, a great shooter. There was a four-minute stretch in the first half – just four minutes – when this trio showed flash of how effective they can be. Collison blocked a shot and in transition found Roll for a 24-foot three-pointer. On the next trip down the court, in transition, the three passed the ball without the ball touching the floor and Holiday laid it in and was fouled. On the next possession, after some smart passing, Roll was found on the baseline for a 14-footer. Next possession: Collison found space at the top of the key. After some nice passes, Roll fed Alfred Aboya for a lay-in. Those 12 points in about four minutes were the smoothest, most effortless scoring UCLA has shown all season.

For you statistics guys: Roll went 4 for 4 from the field, and 3 for 3 from three, for 11 points, two assists and one steal. Josh Shipp: 3 for 8 from the field, 2 for 5 from three, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 block and 1 steal. On the season: In just 16 minutes per game, Roll is averaging 6 points (which is .375 points per minute played), has 8 assists and 2 turnovers, and is shooting 50% from the field and 50% from three. Shipp: In 26 minutes per game, he's averaging 9.8 points (.371 per minute), has six assists to 10 turnovers, and his shooting 37% from the field and 23% from three. He is averaging 4.8 rebounds per game.

When, on the defensive end, Mike Roll is now at least as good a defender as Shipp, if not better, it's becoming a no-brainer.

Shipp, to his credit, fitted in better within the offense Saturday. He was off the ball, and with Collison and Holiday creating, had some easy looks where he could just catch and shoot, or take a just a couple of dribbles into the lane and pull up. Shipp is easily the most effective in the half court when he catches and shoots in rhythm or has space to take just a couple of dribbles and pull up for a mid-range.

If we had another nitpick about Saturday's game, it would be the mere 12 minutes that J'mison Morgan played. Morgan posted up in this game, and did so well, showing a good presence and patience in the post. He had a nice drop step on the baseline for a lay-in, and missed a couple of jump hooks that, at least, looked pretty. He played above the rim with his height and length, volleying a couple of rebounds away from FIU, and going up for a basket about a foot higher than a couple of defenders to score. On a team that has, so far this season, struggled to 1) get any kind of back-to-the basket scoring and 2) finish inside, it would seem that Morgan might be an answer, at least partially an answer. Yes, we know his post defense is still pretty slack, but it's only going to get better by getting him on the floor for a practice game like this against FIU.

James Keefe got in foul trouble early and never got in the flow of the game.

Perhaps the most disappointing performance was that of Nikola Dragovic. Dragovic had to guard another Serb, FIU's Nikola Gacesa, for much of the game, and his fellow countryman didn't show him much courtesy as he torched him consistently. Gacesa posted up Dragovic, drew a foul against him, stepped out and shot over him and drove around him. Gacesa led FIU with 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting and 2 for 3 from the arc. The obvious question to ask was: Does UCLA have the better Serb?

Jerime Anderson definitely showed his point-guard-of-the-future capability, with four assists against just 1 turnover, and 8 points, hitting a three-pointer. Anderson is very good in transition not only passing the ball but in going to the rim himself, and he showed it Saturday.

And we'll simply say this: Malcolm Lee is the second best prospect on the team.

UCLA's defense, of course, was very good, holding FIU to 15% shooting in the first half and just 13 points. Howland mentioned that the subs, who played a majority of the second half, need to improve their defense, allowing FIU to shoot 50% in the second half. Again, this was FIU, but there was seemingly better on-ball defense in this game and less gambling. One of the best moments of the night was when Drew Gordon, who is still learning how to play defense, took a charge. You had to rub your eyes, thinking it was Alfred Aboya on the ground.

Whether this game – or practice – did any good in preparing the Bruins for the whole new world they're going to experience against Texas in Austin is another story.

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