Against CSUN, Not Much to Conclude

There aren't many conclusions to draw from UCLA's win over mediocre Cal State Northridge, 85-67, but you could say that Ben Howland is trying to get his young players experience, and freshmen Drew Gordon had his best performance yet..

With UCLA beating Cal State Northridge, 85-67, Sunday, we're now heading into a six-game stretch in the Bruins' basketball schedule where you really can't derive too much from the games.

You can definitely conclude that UCLA Coach Ben Howland is trying to get his subs some minutes, with five players off the bench getting double-digit minutes, and not one starter playing for over 27 minutes. So, the fact that Howland is trying to get his youngsters some experience now is a very good sign for later in the season.

Really, you can possibly make some conclusions from what UCLA didn't do well against a mediocre opponent, but that's just about as much of a stretch as drawing any conclusions by what they did well.

I guess you can say it's good to get balanced scoring from your three top scorers, with Jrue Holiday and Josh Shipp both getting 14 points and Darren Collison having 13. There were also three players with 9 points apiece – James Keefe, Alfred Aboya and Drew Gordon.

Perhaps the most noteworthy was the shooting night of Keefe, who missed two before making his first four jump shots with confidence and ease. He was the game's high rebounder, with 7 boards, in just 22 minutes, and he played exceptional defense, a couple of times heading off dribble drives in the lane and defending the post well, to the point it caused a couple of turnovers. Keefe's offense could be a vital aspect of UCLA's offense, giving the Bruins another option from 12 to 20 feet.

There's been a discussion raging on the message board about playing time among the players, including who should get the most between Keefe and Nikola Dragovic. Dragovic had 13 in this game, and didn't play particularly well, making just one of his three shots and missing his one three-point attempt, getting no rebounds while committing three quick fouls. Dragovic, hopefully, we'll shoot better the rest of the season than the 23% he has from the three-point line so far, and give UCLA an outside shooting boost sometime when it really needs it.

But perhaps the argument shouldn't be about the playing time between Keefe and Dragovic, but Dragovic and Gordon. As Howland said in his post-game comments, Drew Gordon had probably the best performance of his young UCLA career, scoring those 9 points on 4 of 4 shooting, while getting three rebounds, a block and a steal. Most impressive were two 6-foot, junior jump hooks that floated softly through the net. If Keefe continues to shoot like he is (50% from the field and 36% from three), he can provide the shooting boost from the four spot, while Gordon can pick up some extra minutes in relief at the position, and bring rebounding and athleticism. It's clear that Gordon needs to learn how to play defense far better, but it's not like there'd be a tremendous drop-off in defense from Dragovic to Gordon. Gordon brings to the four something that neither Keefe or Dragovic do, at least a small low-block scoring threat.

One of the most impressive aspects of the game was the passing of Holiday, who had four assists against two turnovers. He probably should have had at least a few more assists, using his spectacular vision on the break and in the half-court. He hit Alfred Aboya on the block with a couple of passes that Aboya looked a bit startled about, probably not used to getting dimes dished out to him like that.

Overall, it was easily UCLA's best game for assists, with Collison and Shipp both collecting 6. It felt like the team was more willing to give up the ball in this game and find a teammate than in any game so far this season.

It was perhaps because of CSUN playing mostly zone for the game, and UCLA taking the approach to pass out of it. The Matadors went to that Michigan-like 1-3-1 for some possessions, and it did still seem to unsettle UCLA's backcourt a bit. But generally, CSUN's zone – and man – were chock full of holes that UCLA's guards used to penetrate or pass through.

If we were to dabble in what to worry about, it would be rebounding and defense. The Matadors were pretty much neck-and-neck with UCLA in rebounds throughout the night, with UCLA finishing with the 33-29 edge. UCLA is getting rebounding from its perimeter players, like Howland emphasized early this season, but it seems to be struggling a bit on defensive rebounding from its bigs. CSUN got 13 offensive boards for the night (one more than UCLA), and many of them led to easy putbacks after UCLA's interior players failed to block out properly.

With so many second-chance shot from close range, CSUN shot a far-too-high 47% from the field, a number Howland I'm sure is repeating over and over. Northridge had 38 of its 67 points in the paint, and 14 second-chance points. Right now, it appears UCLA's perimeter defense is solid, but that UCLA's bigs are still finding their way defensively, sometimes coming out too far to guard an opposing big, which allows him to go around the UCLA defender, and being late to switch off screens.

You probably shouldn't worry too much about UCLA's 19 turnovers, and the 13 in the first half. With the freshmen getting extended minutes, it's natural there will be more turnovers. There were many prolonged periods of time when there were three or four freshmen on the floor.

The few minutes J'mison Morgan is getting is a bit perturbing, getting only 7 minutes in this game. When he's in, it's clear that his defense needs a lot of work, but the potential low-post scoring dimension he could lend the offense is pretty clear, getting three quick baskets posting up. It could just be me, but he looks a bit discouraged.

And perhaps the other worry would be free-throw shooting – with the Bruins shooting an abysmal 50% from the free-throw line, and just 61% for the season. And it's not just because so many freshmen are getting siginficant minutes; Shipp is shooting just 64%, Aboya 65%, Keefe a shocking 20%, while Roll has made just 1 of 4 and Dragovic 2 of 4. Pretty much the entire team is shooting horrendously from the three-point line except for Collison, who has made 95%, and Holiday a decent 77%.

DePaul could give UCLA a little bit of a respite this Saturday in the Wooden Classic from its total cupcake walk to Pac-10 Conference play. Perhaps will be able to take more from that game.

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