We knew it wouldn't be a high-scoring game, that OSU would try to slow it down and keep the score down, and even though it was a blow-out UCLA would only win by 20 points or so.
We said the game would be predicated on how well UCLA has learned to break a zone, and then how well UCLA would do in defending against OSU's Princeton Offense.
All of that was exactly true. Heck, they don't even have to play the games anymore they're becoming so predictable.
While there was much to like about what the Bruins did in this game -- and we'll get to that -- the game also gave you a bit of a glimpse of how good this team could be if Josh Shipp and Nikola Dragovic could shoot three-pointers. This isn't going to be a rag-on-Shipp or a rag-on-Dragovic analysis; in fact, both of them to their credit are playing within themselves and doing what they can do within their limits to make the team better.
Except make three-pointers. Between the two of them they were 2 of 10. There were a number of times in this game when they had open looks, in an offense that is basically designed for them to get open looks, and they just simply can't hit the three-pointer. Shipp again fulfilled our theory on him about his three-point shooting – making his first two early in the game and then missing the next five. It can't be coincidental anymore; as the game goes on Shipp's fatigue must alter his concentration just enough to where his three-point accuracy is dramatically worse. It'd be interesting for anyone to go back through this year's games and check Shipp's three-point shooting percentage in, say, his first three attempts in a game compared to the rest. And this was good shooting for Shipp from three – going 2 of 7 is 28%, which is higher than the exactly 20% he's shooting on the season. Dragovic also has settled in to 20.5% for the season. And as stated above, these aren't random, out-of-sync shots, these are designed, within-the-flow-on-the-offense open looks that Shipp and Dragovic should knock down. Even though UCLA never really was threatened by OSU, in the second half the Beavers cut the lead a couple of times to 15 points, and then Shipp and Dragovic had the chance from those open looks to beat the Beavers back down into their hole. But they didn't seize it. It's really not that much of a stretch for your small forward or the guy who came into the program with the rep for being a great shooter – two guys who Head Coach Ben Howland insists are good shooters – to do better from the three-point line.
I know, it's now to the point where you can't expect Shippovic to shoot better from three than they are now, or did in this game. Heck, they're both shooting 20% for the year from three and that's exactly what they shot combined in this game.
But you can dream. Because, like in this game, it's a glaring weakness that really is one of the critical elements keeping this UCLA team from being great. If Shippovic had made just two more threes from the several open looks they had, the second-half would have seemed like an avalanche that the Beavers couldn't stop. Opposing teams would have to honor both of their outside shots, opening up opportunities for others.
Let's just put it in the dream file. Howland says they can shoot – we'll take his word for it. Maybe it will kick in sometime during this season, and it will help propel this team to greatness. Maybe just one of them will shoot 40% from three from here on out and that alone would help the team on its Greatness Quest.
Luckily Mike Roll did live up to his three-point shooting hype in this game and go 4 from 4 from three. In the first 12 minutes of the second half, UCLA missed six three-point attempts in a row. The Bruins were still up by 20, but OSU had gone on mini-runs and cut it to 15 a couple of times and it felt like they were hanging around a bit. If UCLA had made just a couple of those threes, it would have taken the air out of OSU early in the second half rather than allowing them to dream themselves about getting back in the game. And you can't blame Shipp and Dragovic alone for missing those threes – so did Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday. But then enter Roll. Over the course of about 2 ½ minutes, Roll hit two threes and a mid-range jumper, Collison hit a three, and UCLA ballooned the lead to 28 and the game was over. It was the dagger; it's just that the dagger should have come earlier in the half.
Roll finished 4 for 4 from three and 6 for 7 from the field, with 16 points, two assists and a number of other nice passes. Collison had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 2 for 4 from three, with four assists, 3 steals and just one turnover. Those two definitely carried the offense.
Overall, the offense did well against OSU's 2-3 zone. If UCLA didn't convert a possession, most of the time UCLA got a good look out of it, and just missed the good opportunity. There were very few possessions where UCLA struggled deep into the shot clock against the zone and then was forced to put up a desperation shot.
The Beavers would have probably stayed closer to the Bruins if they hadn't allowed UCLA so many transition baskets. It's getting to the point that UCLA's transition game is so good that even teams rotating back an extra man on their own missed basket isn't preventing the Runnin' Bruins from scoring on the break. Shipp is one of the best finishers in transition in the country; Collison and Holiday are excellent at leading and finishing, Roll is a great transitional passer and now not only a good trailer but going to the rack with confidence, and even UCLA's big guys --- Alfred Aboya, Dragovic and Drew Gordon – get up the court quickly, smelling the blood of an easy basket.
Of course, there is going to be a defense this season that is good enough to limit UCLA's transition game, but more often than not UCLA's transition scoring is too potent for many teams to contain with their transition defense.
As we've been saying since November, so much of how this season goes will depend on the development of the freshmen. And there's an easy argument to make that the freshman who has made the most progress is Gordon. If you want to talk about a youngster who has bought in to Howland's philosophies and recognized early on what he had to do to get on the court – and then do it – this is the kid. He's rebounding (four in this game, in just 16 minutes), he's getting scoring through athletic putbacks, getting fouled and making his free throws (scoring 11 points, and shooting 3 for 4 from the free-throw line). And, most importantly, his defense is really progressing. Even though Gordon has had other games this season when he's had dramatic blocks, this was perhaps his best defensive game of the year. He was exceptional in staying in front of his man, and took a charge. Gordon, compared to the first few games of the season, looks like a different player.
It was perhaps, overall, UCLA's best post defensive game of the season. Aboya was a defensive artist, not only because he got his requisite charge, but in completely overwhelming OSU's Roeland Schaftenaar with his quickness and defensive fundamentals. It was perhaps one of the best aspects of this game to watch – Aboya completely smothering Schaftenaar. Then there was also James Keefe shutting down Daniel Deane. Schaftenaar and Deane combined for just 2 points, on 0 of 8 shooting. Because of UCLA's interior defense, OSU became a completely perimeter-oriented team.
They did, in their Princeton Offense, create a few backdoor opportunities. Shipp, Holiday and Collison were all responsible for falling asleep a bit and getting fooled. All three, actually, have had moments this year when they have struggled to stay in front of their man. But overall, UCLA looked focused on recognizing the screens and backdoor cuts and were effective in defending it.
UCLA now goes on to Eugene to face the Ducks in what we had previously thought would be the Bruins first non-cupcake game in a month. But alas, the Bruins might have one more cupcake to gulp down since Oregon lost to USC last night, 83-62.