Many UCLA fans – as well as the UCLA beat writers – concluded from the Stanford game that UCLA played its best game of the year, or played much better than it had in its previous four games.
If you take away the score, and the fact that UCLA came close to winning this game, and just watch each possession, on both sides of the floor, I don't know how anyone can draw this conclusion.
To begin with, Stanford offensively was miserable. As I wrote in the preview, Julius Barnes could either really help you or kill you. He came very close to killing the Cardinal Thursday night. He made some horrible decisions, played out of control quite often, committed foolish fouls and took some very ill-advised shots. Matt Lottich was almost equally as miserable in his decision-making and shot selection. Those two, Stanford's starting backcourt, went a combined 3 for 16 from the field. Since Stanford has really no other viable options, they played for a combined 66 minutes. That's 66 minutes of pretty poor decision-making and pretty poor basketball.
Many have cited that UCLA played with renewed energy on defense. And it's pretty easy to see that they sustained effort for longer stints on defense in this game. But it's also a matter that Stanford was, overall, miserable offensively. It wasn't as much as UCLA's pressure on defense (Stanford only committed 9 turnovers and wasn't really hindered at all by UCLA's intermittent press), but plainly the Stanford guards' very poor decision-making and shot selection. And even when they had a good look, they missed the shot.
If you would have told me that Julius Barnes and Matt Lottich were going to play this poorly, I would have predicted that UCLA won this game by about 10.
Offensively, UCLA was at least as horrendous as Stanford. At least Stanford ran something that resembles an offense. UCLA's offense consists of passing the ball around the perimeter (since the coaching staff is insisting on passing the ball a number of times before shooting) and then a player, with about 15 seconds left on the shot clock, going one on one. It was UCLA's worst scoring output of the season, and probably among their worst overall offensive efforts, even worse than Saturday's effort against Arizona. Jason Kapono struggled to get looks, and rushed his shot, and was off, shooting 5 of 14 and 2 for 7 from three. T.J. Cummings had one of the worst games of his UCLA career. He resigned himself to not move from about 15 to 18 feet from the basket. He took a shot seemingly every time he touched the ball. And when T.J. isn't hitting that face-up 15 footer, there's really no reason to keep him on the court. He shot 2 of 11 from the field. And it wasn't just that he shot the ball every time he seemed to touch it, he shot the ball quickly on some critical possessions that killed any kind of UCLA momentum. It's astounding that, when Cedric Bozeman commits a turnover he gets pulled out of the game immediately, but UCLA fans have to watch about a 10 minute stretch in the first half where Cumming shot the ball every time he touched it, shot it too quickly in the clock, and missed about 6 consecutive shots, and he stays in the game. Ray Young started the year getting good mid-range looks, playing within himself, taking pretty high percentage shots. Now, he's degraded into a mess. Any outside shot he takes doesn't come from the flow of the offense and he now has lost all control on his penetrations to the basket. In the last four games, he's 2 of 21 from the field. With things breaking down in the program, it appears that Young's self-control and discipline are breaking down also.
The team shot 37% from the field, the second-worst performance so far this year (against Arizona they shot 32%).
Again, I don't know what to attribute the conclusions by many that this was UCLA's best game of the season, or a marked improvement. It was a very poorly played and ugly game. I can only account for the common conclusion that UCLA looked better because the Bruins actually came close to winning, and they didn't hear boos at Pauley Pavilion. That's what UCLA basketball has been reduced to. If UCLA actually comes close to beating a decimated Stanford team that is barely keeping it together and only has five players it can play, it's now considered a moral victory.
Expectations have been vastly lowered.