It was surprising since just about anyone who's been following Pac-10 basketball this season thought Cal was better than they showed Thursday night.
Cal's two leading scorers, Jerome Randall and Patrick Christopher, were held to 11 points and 6, on a combined 6-for-17 shooting night. Both were affected by UCLA's good defense, but it was also a fact that Randle wasn't near as good as he looked in earlier games this season.
Regardless of how Cal wasn't as good as you might have thought, UCLA played fairly well. The two questions for the season – and especially after not looking too good in recent games – were the Bruins' defense and rebounding.
Both were good in this game. UCLA held Cal to 38% shooting in the first half, and 44% for the game, while out-rebounding the Bears 34-23.
UCLA was dominant in this game because its defense limited Cal's offense and created turnovers, which created transition scoring opportunities.
It all started with an improved on-ball defense from UCLA. Collison was very good in guarding Randle, using his length to keep Randle in front of him and also not give him enough space to get off an outside shot. Randle was obviously bothered throughout the night. Jrue Holiday did a good job on Christopher; there were a few times Christopher got by him, but generally Holiday was beating him to the spot and cutting off his drives, matching up physically well with the bigger Christopher.
Bothered by UCLA's good on-ball defense, Cal got careless, like the Cal team we've known from the last couple of years, and turned the ball over at a high rate. They had 16 turnovers in the first half, which enabled UCLA to turn that into 12 fast-break points.
Cal didn't turn the ball over as much in the second half (only 5), but UCLA made a huge 20-2 run in the second half to blow open the game based on getting defensive stop after defensive stop. Cal went five minutes without a basket, and UCLA ballooned the lead to 51-30 and then coasted the last 12 minutes of the game to the win.
As with UCLA's defense, you could see the re-doubled effort also on rebounding in this game. Of every rebound that was available on UCLA's offensive end of the floor, the Bruins got half of them (16-8). On its defensive end, of the 33 rebounds, UCLA retrieved 26. So, that translates into a good percentage of second attempts for UCLA's offense, and not many for Cal's offense.
Josh Shipp, Nikola Dragovic and Alfred Aboya each had 6 rebounds, Jrue Holiday had five and Drew Gordon had four. UCLA will have to continue to rebound as a team, like they did in this game, to win the rebounding battle.
One of the big issues coming into this game was penetrating more on offense, to score, create for others and or get fouled. You could see a concerted effort by some of the team to do it, but still not by the two guys – Collison and Holiday – that you'd like to see do it more often. Collison definitely took the ball to the basket in transition, but not as much as he could have in the half-court. For Holiday, it was the same.
UCLA shot its first free-throw at the 8:49 mark, and it was by Mike Roll, who was one of the guys who definitely looked like he took the suggestion to try into the lane to heart.
Collison had an okay offensive game, a bit sloppy with the ball, pressing a bit, but had an improved defensive game, which easily makes up for it. UCLA has some guys who can pick up the slack offensively, but they don't have anyone, really, who has the capability of providing the type of on-ball defense against the opposing team's point guard like Collison does. So, you'll take that trade-off any day.
Holiday had an all-around good game, especially the few excellent assists in both the half-court and in transition. He actually fed James Keefe a nice over-the-top feed in the post, and threw a perfect and tough alley-oop to Shipp. It's been said many times, and it bears repeating: When Holiday touches the ball, good things generally happen. If you pay close attention to UCLA's halfcourt offense, Holiday simply doesn't touch the ball much, with it being dominated mostly by Collison and Shipp. It's not Collison's or Shipp's fault; they're doing what they've been doing for years. It's a matter of Holiday asserting himself, demanding the ball and taking advantage of his touches.
Jerime Anderson, in his 10 minutes, also showed his great feel and vision. There are times when the offense doesn't convert a shot when he's in the game, but the halfcourt offense still does the right thing – rotating the ball on the outside, feeding the post, kicking out to shooters, etc. It would be interesting to compile a stat of how often a UCLA post player touches the ball per minute when Anderson is in the game compared to when he isn't. If he and Holiday do indeed make up UCLA's backcourt next season, as we said, they might not convert as many offensive possessions, but it will be fun to watch a halfcourt offense that has more dimensions, utilizes its post players, knows where the shooters and the screens set for them are going to be, etc. Anderson, also, is an excellent defender; he doesn't have the quickness of, say, Collison, but has very good length and anticipation. He, also, gave Randle problems during his 10 minutes.
Mike Roll, too, will be a guy who will undoubtedly benefit. When Anderson plays with Roll, Anderson is clearly trying to get him the ball with space to shoot.
In fact, even without Anderson on the court, UCLA's offense looked like it ran a few more plays and screens for Roll in this one. Roll had a couple of double screens on his man on the perimeter behind which he could catch and shoot. Both of his two three-pointers came off that play.
Perhaps the most interesting offensive development was the use of motion more in the second half. When Cal had a smaller lineup on the court, UCLA went to a lineup of Aboya, Shipp, Roll, Holiday and Collison, and they ran motion, which created more space for shooters and for penetration. Holiday clearly benefitted from the motion, touching the ball more and having more opportunities to drive and create.
So, all in all, while Cal didn't present as much resistance as you would have thought, UCLA did obviously emphasize the points Howland and the players were talking about all week. There was definitely a re-doubled effort in defense and rebounding and that, shockingly, was the difference.