As Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray said in What About Bob? -- baby steps.
UCLA overcame another horrible start, a surprise suspension, and a very game Cal State Bakersfield squad, and pulled away for their first win of the season, 75-64. Not a thing of beauty by any means, but it's a start.
I'll leave the explanation on the Nikola Dragovic suspension to someone else. Suffice it to say Dragovic didn't play, and James Keefe started for him. UCLA scored the first bucket on a layup by Jerime Anderson and then Bakersfield ripped off 10 in a row in what looked like a replay of the first game and the exhibitions -- bad on-ball defense, bad offense and another missed layup by an uncontested Anderson.
Bakersfield showed several defensive looks -- man, 2-3 zone, both man and zone presses, and even did a little trapping in the halfcourt. It seemed like every time the Roadrunners changed defenses they'd gain a few points as the inexperienced Bruins struggled to figure out the new defense. Stephon Carter and Trent Blakely gave the UCLA defenders problems, both taking their Bruin defenders off the dribble, and spotting up for jumpshots. At one point in the 5:52 mark in the first half Bakersfield led by 11 points, 31-20, and Bruin fans were thinking what they might do for the next four months. Anderson, coming off a bad first game, continued to struggle with turnovers, once getting picked merely bringing the ball up the court, and he collected two early fouls, honestly looked completely befuddled in the first half.
UCLA finally got their heads in the game and went on a 10-0 run to end the half, sending the game to halftime tied up at 35. Drew Gordon led the Bruins in scoring with 13 points at the half and had one huge block coming over to completely engulf an attempted driving dunk by Carter, along with two others. The blocks were impressive but were generally the result of bad defense, someone getting beat off the dribble but getting saved by Gordon's block. Mike Roll didn't shoot well in the first half, going 19:55 without scoring, but he did a terrific job of setting up his teammates. After missing a couple of shots he recognized Bakersfield defenders were running at him hard, and he started ball-faking and stepping in, which led to nice dishes to Gordon, Keefe and Reeves Nelson for easy buckets. Nelson and Brendan Lane both played in the first half, and Nelson had some defensive lapses but again provided energy; Lane looked a bit confused in the zone offense but had a nice bucket and played solidly.
After Bakersfield got the first bucket of the 2nd half, UCLA went on a 25-5 run and led 60-42. UCLA jstarted picking apart both the Bakersfield zone and man defense by flashing guys to the high post. One time it's Malcolm Lee getting the ball, pump faking and driving for a layup; Next time it's Roll with a nice pass to a backcutting Gordon for a dunk, then, the next time down it was Mike Moser catching at the top of the key and providing Gordon with look in the block for an easy hook.
The Bruins in the 2nd half were night-and-day from the first half. Anderson had 8 points and, while he still made too many mistakes, he also had several nice hit-aheads for buckets and one very nice no-look that should have been a dunk for Lane but the freshman forward didn't expect it and the ball went out of bounds. Probably the best part of this game was Anderson's 2nd half; UCLA really needs him to come through at the point guard spot and he played much better after halftime, much more confident.
The final score was somewhat misleading as Bakersfield scored the last 5 points in garbage time to close to 11. The game was no contest for about the last 14 minutes. J'mison Morgan got in during garbage time as did walk-on gaurd Blake Arnet, Bobo had a terrific block on a driving layup as the fans chanted his name.
There were a few things that became very clear in this game: 1) Reeves Nelson is the backup center on this team, Bobo Morgan is #3 behind Gordon and Nelson, and frankly I can see why. Nelson again added a spark when he came in, played hard, had 8 points and did a nice job on the glass. 2) With Dragovic out, Roll and Keefe are now the only experienced players on the roster and they have to lead the young players. Tonight they both did their jobs well, with Roll finishing with 12 points (going 4-6 from the field and 2 for 3 from three in the second half), 6 assists and played very solid defense, causing numerous turnovers in the 2nd half during the big run. Keefe had 10 points, a few big offensive rebound/putbacks, and, after passing up an easy shot in the first half, was much more aggressive the rest of the way. 3) While both can be frustrating at times , Gordon and Lee are clearly improving. Gordon had his best game as a Bruin, with 19 points, 5 boards, and 3 blocks, despite sitting quite a bit with foul trouble. Lee was much more under control and had 10 points and had several nice passes. He also played good D, although he needs to stop reaching so much. 4) UCLA still can't shoot FTs. Lee was 3-7 from the floor but only 3-6 from the line. Anderson was only 1-3 from the line. The free-throw shooting is going to really hurt the Bruins late in close games this year if it doesn't get cleaned up. After two games, as a team, UCLA is shooting 48% from the line.
With Drago out and Honeycutt still healing, UCLA is short-handed and the young players are going to have to step up. Gordon played with a sore right shoulder which was bandaged up; He said after the game it's definitely sore but he's got to play through it. Lane appeared to still be nursing the ankle a bit, seemingly dragging one leg at times running downcourt. Anderson is clearly not 100% yet, not elevating like we know he can. But the team pulled together after another horrendous start and outscored Bakersfield by 21 points for about the last 28 minutes of the game. UCLA is, obvioiusly, a work in progress and at times they can look really ugly. As the games get tougher, you can probably continue to struggle, even more dramatically. But you can clearly the injuries are still hamping them, and also see the lack of practice time due to those injuries has set this team back. They're still putting in the zone offense, still getting used to playing with each other, still becoming a team.
But this game was encouraging. Playing much better at the end of the first half and to start of the 2nd half, they went on a 35-7 run amd wound up shooting 59% from the field for the game, while also holding their opponent to 40% from the field for the second game in a row. Clearly this team has a long way to go but, at least Friday night, it looked like they're heading in the right direction, even though the destination might be very far away.I think at this point we all can agree the game was more of being less ugly than good, but it was a win and something to build on.