LMU Review

UCLA got its freshman some extended minutes and got some more work against a zone in beating depleted and under-manned Loyola Marymount, 75-44, Wednesday night. UCLA's defense, however, didn't live up to its stats...

UCLA got in another productive scrimmage Wednesday, beating Loyola Marymount, 75-44.

In the scrimmage, the Bruins got in a great deal of work against a 2-3 zone, and got their freshmen some good minutes.

The Lions played zone exclusively, and packed it in since they have very few players on their roster and had to protect them from foul trouble.

UCLA, in answering that packed-in zone, attempted 33 three-pointers, and made 11 of them, for a fairly poor 33% clip.

Jrue Holiday was 0 for 6, Josh Shipp was 1 for 4, Darren Collison was 1 for 4, Jerime Anderson was 1 for 4, and Nikola Dragovic was 0 for 2. If you take away Mike Roll shooting 4 for 5 from behind the line, UCLA shot just 7 for 28, which is 25%.

It wasn't as if the three-point attempts were bad, contested shots; most of them were open looks.

Ben Howland said in his post-game comments that UCLA is a better three-point shooting team, specifically Holiday, who is shooting 35% from three on the season.

However, Shipp is now shooting 20% (5 for 25) and Dragovic 19% (5 for 26).

Howland, you could see, intended to use the scrimmage as an opportunity to get his freshmen some game minutes. Frosh center J'mison Morgan played the most minutes of any game this season – 13. Malcolm Lee played 18, Jerime Anderson played 17, and Drew Gordon played 14. Freshman Jrue Holiday played the most minutes on the team – 24. So, naturally, there were some veterans who spent more time on the bench, like Shipp, who played 19 minutes (and just 9 minutes in the second half), and Alfred Aboya, who played for a total of 16 minutes, mostly due to suffering a bloody nose in the second half and sitting the rest of the way.

There were extended periods in this game where 3, 4 or 5 freshmen were on the court at the same time.

It's interesting to watch, say, when on the court are Holiday, Anderson, Roll or Lee, guys who are superior passers. Against the zone, with a combination of those players in at the same time, UCLA passed the ball well, finding teammates moving without the ball, trying to find the open space. They got a number of very good looks within 5-8 feet, and even though, say, the finisher couldn't finish the easy look, for the basketball purist that was good basketball. Even though it might not have resulted in a basket, that is better to the basketball purist than the ball dying on the perimeter, without any ball or player movement and then someone hitting a desperation shot with a few seconds left on the shot clock. Because, in the long run, when Morgan or Gordon are better at finishing inside, the half-court possession that creates an easier look from superior passing will be more productive.

And heck, even if it isn't, the basketball purist in me would rather watch a half-court possession where ball movement cuts up a zone and the shot is missed than poor ball movement and the last-option, three-point attempt is made.

It's a great sign for the future of UCLA basketball. With some young guys on the roster who pass well, UCLA has the potential in the next few years to be a very good passing team in the half-court.

It's intriguing that you could easily make a point that a defense that held its opponent to 44 points and 39% shooting didn't necessarily play well. Loyola Marymount, plainly, is a very poor shooting team. If they were executing their offense with no one defending them they'd probably shoot 45%. UCLA allowed them too many open looks, too many open, easy baskets, given how under-manned LMU is. The hedging on the ball screen has improved generally, while most of the issue seems to be coming from late defensive rotations. When UCLA tries to trap, either with a double or merely when a man picks up his dribble, LMU was able to find someone under the basket too often after a Bruin was late to rotate over and pick up the man.

We're not really going to nitpick the subbing pattern. Yes, Roll was hot, having hit three three-pointers against the zone in the first half, and the only one who looked capable of doing it – and he was yanked. Yes, James Keefe was playing well but he was yanked for Dragovic. But Howland looked like he had a subbing plan despite the score, with the priority getting players time rather than being the most effective it could from a personnel standpoint at a certain time in this game.

We now have an interesting hypothesis about Shipp's three-point shooting: If you might have noticed, Shipp usually makes his first three-point attempt in a game. I would bet his shooting percentage on his first three-point attempt in a game is somewhere over 40%. Then, his accuracy declines. Could it be, as he tires, he loses the ability to focus and hit threes? Is it stamina, possibly? Even though we've resigned ourselves to not waiting for Shipp to ever improve his three-point shooting (we are a third of the way into his fifth year) and appreciate the other offensive abilities he can provide the team, it's an interesting point.

Shipp had 9 points in his ten first-half minutes, and he did so with what we've asserted has easily become his most effective offensive weapon – the two-dribble, mid-range pull-up. It's a stat that isn't available, but it's not a stretch to assert that Shipp is shooting over 50% from the 12-17 foot range. When he gets space within 17 feet you expect it to go in.

It seems logical, then, for this team to exploit its players' clear strengths and de-emphasize their weaknesses.

Here is an interesting stat from the game. UCLA got just 8 points in transition, and 0 in the first half. After scoring consistently in transition against DePaul, Loyola Marymount took it away, conceding UCLA the defensive rebound (UCLA had 31) and getting back as soon as LMU shot the ball. It is a sound approach against the Bruins, making them have to execute in their half-court offense rather than getting easy points on the break. LMU couldn't make much of it, however, since it allowed UCLA so many open looks against its half-court zone defense.

In his increased minutes, Morgan looked like he has improved defensively. Despite Howland saying he was late on his hedge, he looked far better doing it in this game than anytime this season. There was also one sequence where Bobo got two blocks in a row after staying on his feet and allowing the penetrator to commit. It's something he didn't do earlier in the season. He's still a project in terms of moving his feet and beating his man to the spot in the post, but there seemed to be general defensive improvement from Morgan.

Gordon, in his 14 minutes, was effective, pulling down 8 rebounds and getting opportune putback dunks.

Anderson seems to be settling down more with every game, even though it's tough to take too much from it since he's not being defended by superior D-1 talent.

LMU might not have gotten the scouting report that Lee can shoot. Left open he hit 2 of 4 three-point attempts. He also had a very athletic drive to the basket in which he drew the foul. He, also, seems to be settling down and making fewer poor decisions.

Overall, for playing the freshmen so many minutes, it was encouraging that the team committed just 10 turnovers. The freshmen, though, were responsible for 8 of those.

If Collison is any indication of the team's mindset, hopefully he (and the team) won't fall into disinterest as it plays through the Cupcake Schedule. Collison looked a bit detached in this one, not making a basket in the first half and not trying to penetrate the zone.

Three more non-conference cupcakes to go...

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